Motorists in South Los Angeles appear to bear the brunt of the Los Angeles Police Department's crackdowns on drunk driving, according to an L.A. Weekly analysis of LAPD checkpoint information for 2015.
Fine, many will say: Those who put our lives in danger need to see more black-and-whites in their rear-view mirrors, wherever they might be.
But many of these communities are impoverished, minority enclaves, raising questions of racial and socioeconomic justice. DUIs these days come with nearly $16,000 in costs, vehicle impounds, and, often, job losses and family discord.
The median individual income in L.A. County is $28,555, so a DUI, guilty or not, can take out more than half the average Angeleno's paycheck for a year.
Checkpoints and extra patrols can also ensnare suspects for minor violations, including fix-it tickets that can balloon into license-ending ordeals for those who are cash-strapped. These kinds of citations can spiral into major life crisis for low-income residents.
In our look at all the LAPD DUI-checkpoint and saturation-patrol information we could find for last year, we couldn't pinpoint one instance when such an operation took place in the city's whitest, most-affluent police division, West Los Angeles.
It covers Bel Air, Benedict Canyon, Beverly Crest, Beverly Glen, Beverlywood, Brentwood, Century City, Cheviot Hills, Crestview, Pacific Palisades, Rancho Park, Sawtelle, and the college area of Westwood.
LAPD Officer Don Inman of the department's Traffic Coordination Section acknowledged as much, telling us, “Three years ago we were out there.”
By far the most checkpoints or DUI saturation patrols we counted in 2015 took place in greater South Los Angeles.
Including most of the city areas south of the 10 freeway but not including the Harbor Division (mainly San Pedro, Wilmington and Harbor Gateway), we counted more than 30 such operations in 2015.
These communities are predominantly black and Latino. The city is about 29 percent white.
The whitest parts of L.A. include the West L.A. Division and the West Valley area. The first saw no checkpoints or saturation patrols, by our count. The West Valley Division saw about three such operations last year, according to our tally.
Our count is likely imprecise: The LAPD doesn't always publicize all its checkpoints, sometimes leaving state-mandated, 24-hour public notice to each individual division. Plus, it's possible we overlooked a few.
The LAPD's West Bureau — stretching from Koreatown to the sea — saw 26 DUI operations in 2015, including two in the Venice area, according to our count. For all of the South Bureau there were 27 operations, according to our count.
We counted 27 DUI operations in the Central Bureau, which includes downtown, neighborhoods just south of downtown, the Eastside, Northeast L.A., and the Rampart Division west of downtown.
We found 41 in the Valley Bureau.
In calculating crackdowns in greater South L.A. we included Newton Division, which is just south of downtown, but which is part of the LAPD's Central Bureau (and not part of its South Bureau).
The northeastern and eastern sections of the San Fernando Valley, which are heavily Latino, saw 17 DUI crackdowns last year.
In the Wilshire Division, which covers neighborhoods from Mid-City to Hancock Park, Beverly Grove to Country Club Park, we counted nine DUI operations in 2015.
The Olympic Division, which includes predominantly Latino and Korean-American Koreatown, is a hot spot for drunk driving, the LAPD's Inman said. We counted seven operations there.
Inman said Hollywood is also focus of these operations, acknowledging that, given the area's clubs and bars, it can be like shooting fish in a barrel. We counted five DUI operations there in 2015.
The operations are purely about statistics, Inman said, based mainly on LAPD Compstat crime info that shows where DUI-related collisions are on the rise.
“We're just trying to address the DUI collisions,” he said. “It might appear to be that way [that minority neighborhoods are targeted], but we're trying to address the problem. We're data-driven.”
He noted, for example, that DUI operations in the Harbor Division, which includes San Pedro and Wilmington, are rare because the data doesn't support them. Indeed, the areas, which are heavily Latino, don't see the nearly the number of DUI crackdowns that neighborhoods to the north experienced.
Inman also pointed out that the area around Staples Center, frequented by an array of people willing to spend a lot of cash on tickets and drinks, is a repeat target of DUI crackdowns. That's true: Olympic Boulevard near the 110 freeway is a frequent LAPD target.
West L.A., he said, simply doesn't have the drunk-driving crashes to motivate crackdowns.
“Historically, West L.A. has never had a high percentage of DUI traffic collisions,” he said. “It's not that we're avoiding West L.A. We're trying to address a bigger problem elsewhere.”
Critics wonder aloud, however, if focusing so much police power in minority areas creates more negative data.
The Back on the Road California (BOTRCA) consortium recently released a report, “Stopped, Fined, Arrested — Racial Bias in Policing and Traffic Courts in California,” that found “driver’s license suspension rates range as high as five times the state average” in African-American and Latino communities, a summary stated.
Two older white drivers involved in a deadly collision with Olympian Caitlyn Jenner in Malibu last year did not have valid driving privileges, according to reports. But that's an anecdote.
Advocates for immigrants have long decried checkpoints as barrio money makers for police who impound the cars of those without licenses. The state now grants licenses to those here illegally, and the LAPD years ago stopped the impounds of vehicles belonging to undocumented immigrants in most cases.
“The numbers are skewed and self-fulfilling,” argues Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable President Earl Ofari Hutchinson. “The deck is really stacked for South L.A. and communities of color.”
He thinks it's not all necessarily about race, either.
On the Westside, Hutchinson notes, police are far more likely to face educated suspects with higher incomes and attorneys at-the-ready. That can spell heartache for officers just trying to get legit cases through the system.
“If you're in South L.A. with a DUI checkpoint you have the least likelihood of a legal challenge,” he said. “In Westwood or Woodland Hills you might get a City Council person, U.S. Senator, an Assembly person, or a doctor. Now you got a problem.”
“The perception is that there's going to be more drunken behavior in South L.A. than anywhere else,” Hutchinson said. “But you're not stopping people in these other areas, so how would you know?”