An internal probe conducted by the Los Angeles Police Department has concluded that Officer Patrick Smith racially profiled Latino drivers, according to the Los Angeles Times. This is the first time in the department's history that it has substantiated such an allegation.
Smith has been with the LAPD for 15 years, working as a motorcycle cop in the West Traffic Division. Evidence shows that he targeted Latino drivers and falsified reports by purposefully misidentifying them as white. He now faces a disciplinary hearing where sources tell the paper the department will seek his dismissal.
Such allegations are nothing new for the LAPD. Each year, there are approximately 250 formal complaints regarding racial profiling, according to the Times. This is a large number, but it is much better than it used to be.
Racial profiling during traffic stops is technically illegal. It violates equal protection laws and the Fourth Amendment's prohibition of unreasonable searches and seizures. An officer cannot meet the law's reasonable suspicion requirement if his sole reasoning for stopping someone is race.
Recognizing that these sorts of stops were an ongoing problem in Los Angeles, the U.S. Justice Department stepped in. In 2001, it won a consent decree, giving it power to subject the police department to federal audits, monitoring and a complete overhaul of its internal procedures. As a result, the LAPD created a special team of investigators that the Times reports focus solely on constitutional rights violations.
The Patrick Smith racial profiling investigation is arguably a result of this overhaul. The special investigators were able to connect multiple allegations and read through his reports. Some also believe that the mere fact the LAPD has itself found that Patrick Smith racially profiled motorists is a sign that the department is finally taking the issue seriously.