Members of a civilian panel that oversees the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department called on the county’s independent watchdog to review cyclist stops after a Times investigation found MPs were searching the vast majority of cyclists they disproportionately arrest and arrest Latinos.
The Times analyzed more than 44,000 bike stops recorded by the Sheriff’s Department since 2017 and found that MPs tracked 85% of the cyclists they stop and that 7 out of 10 stops involved Latino cyclists. Bikers in poorer communities with large non-white populations are arrested and frisked much more often than those in richer, whiter parts of the county.
The analysis found that MPs discover illegal objects in 8% of searches. Weapons were seized 164 times, less than half a percent of all searches.
Priscilla Ocen, chairman of the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission, said the department’s inspector general, Max Huntsman, should examine “racial disparities in roadside checks, including bicycle stops”, and that the commission should consider limit the agency’s role in law enforcement.
“This has no real benefit in terms of performance in terms of security,” Ocen said, referring to the low success rates of MPs finding drugs or other contraband when searching the premises. cyclists.
Sheriff officials have defended the use of bike stops as a legitimate tool to fight crime, arguing that criminals use bikes to evade detection.
Riding a bicycle allows criminals “to pass through a neighborhood unnoticed, faster and more safely than on foot, and also makes it easier to avoid contact with the police. We do not carry out roadside checks on people who are obviously engaged in the use of a bicycle for exercise or entertainment, ”department spokeswoman Lt. Lorena Rodriguez said in September.
The sheriff’s department is not obligated to follow the recommendations of the commission, which plays an advisory role.
Lael Rubin, also a member of the committee, said that MPs’ practice of routinely escalating minor bicycle infractions into more serious encounters in which they search people’s property and often hold it in the back seat of a car patrol could violate the civil rights of cyclists. .
“It is not constitutional police,” she said.
It’s unclear what, if anything, Huntsman will do to review the bike stops. The commission could ask him to do an audit or something less formal.
The Times’ findings, Huntsman said, were similar to problems faced by the agency’s national highway policing team, which stopped motorists on the 5 Freeway in search of drugs, and was suspended in 2018, after a Times investigation found Latino motorists were disproportionately targeted.
“One of the problems with low success rates is that the lower the percentage of successful capture of a criminal, the higher the percentage of people who were obviously not a criminal,” Huntsman said. “When that percentage gets really high… what you do is seen as harassment by the community. ”
Two LA County supervisors, Janice Hahn and Hilda Solis, said the council should reconsider a local law in unincorporated areas of the county that made it illegal to cycle on sidewalks – a violation that was the grassroots of 8% of the sheriff’s department bike stops, according to the Times analysis.
“If the deputies are using this petty offense of riding on the sidewalk as an excuse to search innocent people, that is wrong,” Hahn said in a statement. “The sidewalk law was meant to protect pedestrians, but if that’s how it’s applied, I think we need to consider changing it.”
Cyclists told The Times they were riding on the sidewalk because it was safer than facing cars on busy roads without bike lanes.
MPs arrested people who traveled on the sidewalk more frequently in areas with few bike lanes, the Times found. In eastern LA, for example, where only 1% of streets have bike lanes, almost a quarter of bike stops were for sidewalk violations, one of the highest rates in the jurisdiction of the sheriff. And in Lynwood, where there are no bike lanes at all, they account for 16% of stops.
In contrast, West Hollywood, which is predominantly white, has a higher percentage of streets with cycle lanes. The city code allows cyclists to ride on the sidewalk in areas without cycle lanes, and less than 1% of bike stops there were initiated due to sidewalk violations.
Surveys conducted by the nonprofit Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition found that cyclists are twice as likely to ride on the sidewalk on streets without a bike path than those with them.
Michael Schneider, founder of transportation advocacy group Streets for All, said the average biker doesn’t know when they are passing through a city that is permitted to ride on the sidewalk in an unincorporated county area.
For example, it is legal in the city of Los Angeles, as long as the rider does not show a “willful and indiscriminate disregard” for safety.
“This mismatch is really problematic,” he said.
Schneider said his group was pushing the supervisory board to legalize driving on the sidewalk.
Solis said the county’s Vision Zero plan, an initiative to end traffic-related deaths, also proposes the change.
“This proposal is a handy fruit that will begin to address the injustices revealed by the Los Angeles Times analysis,” Solis said. “Cycling, shopping or going to school shouldn’t be a crime. Instead, residents should have the privilege of riding their bikes without fear of profiling. “
Kevin Shin, deputy director of the cycling coalition, supports such efforts but called them a “band-aid solution”, saying the county should invest in making the streets safer for cyclists.
“Unless we also put a lot of effort into pushing forward real changes in infrastructure, riding on the sidewalk doesn’t really solve the problem,” he said.
He said building more bike paths in underserved communities was part of the group’s long-term goals.
Supervisor Holly Mitchell said reports that Latino cyclists are disproportionately stopped is “not acceptable”.
“No resident should be discriminated against because of where they live or the color of their skin. Creating safer options, including cycle paths for cyclists, must be part of road safety, ”Mitchell said.