Analysis of police arrest data in Southern California reveals dramatic racial disparity

Criminal justice professor: "These numbers have been consistent, unfortunately consistent, for the last 10 to 20 to 30 years."

ByCarlos Granda and Grace Manthey and John Kelly KABC logo
Thursday, June 11, 2020
FBI data shows racial disparity in Southland arrest rates
An analysis of the FBI's data on police arrests in Southern California reveals a stark racial disparity.

The death of George Floyd has sparked protests in all 50 states around the Black Lives Matter movement. One of the pillars of that movement is fighting the systematic racism in law enforcement.

Across Southern California, African Americans comprised about 7% of the population but made up 17% of arrests in 2018, according to an ABC7 analysis of the most recent FBI arrest data from over 100 Southland law-enforcement agencies.

The rate of arrests for black residents in the region was about 58 per 1,000 people, but the rate of arrests for white Southern Californians was only 33 per 1,000 people. That means black residents in the Southland are almost twice as likely to be arrested as white people across Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties.

These same patterns hold up in the 2016 and 2017 data as well.

"I can tell you that these numbers have been consistent, unfortunately consistent for the last 10 to 20 to 30 years," said Dr. Tommy Tunson, a former police chief and a professor of criminal justice.

Thousands of Los Angeles protesters who were arrested over curfew won't be charged

Los Angeles prosecutors won't charge thousands of protesters who were arrested after violating curfew and other orders by police in the city that's made the most arrests during U.S. demonstrations over racial injustice.

In some local areas, the disparity is even wider.

Manhattan Beach has a population of more than 35,500 people, according to U.S. Census data. About 190 are black, less than 1% of the population. But in 2018, FBI records show the Manhattan Beach Police department arrested 225 black people, more than the black population that lives there. In fact, black people were nearly 43 times more likely to get arrested there than white people.

There are other areas and departments that follow similar patterns.

In Beverly Hills, black people were almost 21 times more likely to get arrested than white people. In Malibu, almost 10 times more likely. In West Hollywood, 12 times more likely.

Table not displaying correctly? Click here to view in a new window

"I think that's something that's always looked at in law enforcement," said Capt. Edward Ramirez of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department's West Hollywood station. "And I can tell you that West Hollywood may be the most tolerant cities in America and they expect that from the police department."

All of these communities have small black populations, West Hollywood having the highest at 3.6%. The others are at about 1% or lower.

While these numbers are staggering, it's also important to note that those who get arrested for crimes in an area aren't limited to those who live there, especially in cities like these where city boundaries aren't exactly obvious. For example, Manhattan Beach's neighboring city of Hawthorne has a much higher black population at about 24%.

In West Hollywood, Ramirez said the "population of about 38,000 swells to over twice that size during the week as people come in for employment and to visit."

But the entire population of Los Angeles County is about 9% black. And the percentages of black arrests by law enforcement in Manhattan Beach, Beverly Hills and West Hollywood are more than 20%.

Tunson said what it usually comes down to is individual officers, which is where proper oversight is important.

"The chief of police will look at this and say, 'Hey I need to talk to Officer X and find out why it appears that Officer X is contacting more blacks or Hispanics ... and the majority of the city is white," he said.

But there are growing sentiments for complete overhauls of police systems to fight these racial issues in the law enforcement system.

The "Defund the police" movement has been growing after the death of George Floyd and some local governments have even vowed to cut spending, including Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.