The LAPD’s biggest conundrum: How to suppress crime without alienating South L.A.’s black residents

Policing South LA

Sgt. Jeritt Severns, left, speaks with other LAPD officers about a shooting call in South L.A. (Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times)

On a chilly night in South Los Angeles, a young black man stood on the sidewalk watching police officers rummage through his car.

Their reason for stopping him: the tinted front windows on his Nissan Maxima. Because he was on probation, the officers could legally conduct a search. It was the first of four times that Rio Cater would be stopped by police that night.

Black residents interviewed throughout South L.A. said they deeply resented how often they are pulled over and the way they are treated by some police officers.

When an officer praised his cooperative attitude, Cater, 28, replied that he was trying to avoid being ha— …

“Don’t say the ‘h’ word,” the officer broke in, before Cater could say “harassed.”

The officers were from the Los Angeles Police Department’s elite Metropolitan Division, assigned to South L.A. as part of an emergency operation. This past summer, Metro officers in unmarked cars flooded high-crime, predominantly African American and Latino areas, stopping drivers with paper license plates, tinted windows or broken tail lights as a pretext to search for illegal guns and find dangerous criminals.

There is evidence that the strategy paid off. During the six-month operation, Metro officers seized 300 guns, and the number of killings stabilized.

Yet there is a cost, particularly at a time when police shootings of black men have put the country on edge.

Black residents interviewed throughout South L.A. said they deeply resented how often they are pulled over and the way they are treated by some police officers. Many acknowledge that they need the LAPD to keep them safe. But some long for bicycle or foot patrols, so officers can develop a personal relationship with the community….


Cindy Chang
Los Angeles Times

About Cindy Chang

Cindy Chang covers the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department for the Los Angeles Times. Previously, she worked at the Times-Picayune in New Orleans, where her beats included city government, schools and special projects. She was the lead writer for a series on Louisiana prisons that won several national awards. A graduate of Yale University and NYU School of Law, she began her journalism career at the Pasadena Star-News.