Though there are few complaints about unjust police stops in Los Angeles, each and every one is taken seriously, Capt. Sean Kane told an LAPD District Meeting Thursday night. "Police officers at no time should break the law to enforce the law," he said to about 35 people at Shepherd of the Hills Church in Porter Ranch.
Kane, commanding officer of the Devonshire Division, which includes Chatsworth, was one of four police officials to talk about "constitutional policing," guidelines followed by the department that forbid traffic stops based strictly on such characteristics as race, gender or sexual orientation.
His introduction included a three-minute excerpt of a training video in which Police Chief Charlie Beck stressed the need for probable cause that a crime has been committed before a stop can be made.
Apparently, Los Angeles police have taken the message to heart. Out of about 675,000 traffic stops made by the LAPD in each of the last five years, only about 300, on average, have resulted in complaints of racial profiling or other forms of bias, reported Det. Jim Willis, who heads the internal affairs unit that investigates such complaints.
It's a tiny percentage of all arrests, Willis said, but it is not insignificant. "If there's one (incident of biased policing), it's one too many." He said Los Angeles has the only police department in the country with an internal affairs unit dedicated exclusively to constitutional policing.
Typically, Willis said, the person filing the complaint admits there was a violation connected to the traffic stop. However, they argue that others commit the same violation without getting pulled over.
In response to a question by Chatsworth Patch after the program, Willis said his unit, after investigating, has not sustained a single complaint of police bias in several years. That doesn't mean, he added, that all the complaints were ruled "unfounded." Some fell into other categories, such as "not resolved," "exonerated" and "insufficient evidence to adjudicate."
The investigations by Willis' unit are reviewed by the Office of Inspector General, which reports directly to the civilian Board of Police Commissioners, said Jennifer Gomez, a member of the Office of Inspector General.
"We are not an advocate for the complainant or the department," she said. However, she continued, people may call her office if they are unsatisfied with the police review and less than a year has elapsed.
At the start of the meeting, Kane announced that crime in the Devonshire district had decreased nearly 20 percent compared to the previous year.
He said a new program to discourage thefts from cars, "Lock-It, Hide-It, Keep-It," has shown some progress but there is still a need for greater public awareness to thwart thieves.
Lt. Greg Doyle also encouraged residents to sign up for police alerts by e-mail or on their mobile devices by creating an account at Nixle.com. "It's like a Twitter site for cops," he said. Text alerts also are available to those who register by texting "88877" and provide their zip code, he added.