Published Friday, Jan. 4, 2013 | 4 p.m.
Updated Friday, Jan. 4, 2013 | 6:40 p.m.
A three-year study into Metro Police presented Friday found poor morale among officers was driving “racial disparities in the treatment of residents.”
The Los Angeles-based Consortium for Police Leadership in Equity conducted the study at the urging of Sheriff Douglas Gillespie.
Phillip Atiba Goff, a social psychologist on the UCLA faculty and one of the study’s authors, said in a news conference Friday afternoon that Metro had low levels of racial bias compared with other police departments and poor morale. The morale combined with Metro’s “ineffective” diversity training program increased the likelihood of racial bias when an officer uses force on a person, he said.
The group focused its research on use of force, deadly force and internal equity, conducting interviews, taking multiple surveys, reviewing Internal Affairs complaints and pulling 20 years worth of data on use of force.
Part of the study involved a survey of officers and their perceptions of Metro. Of the 3,396 sworn personnel employed by Metro at the time of the survey, 2,198 responded — a 64.7 percent response rate, which the study called “exceptionally high for an online survey.”
The survey found officers from across Metro felt the department handled “diversity issues” moderately well. But demographics played a significant role in officer perceptions of diversity dealings. For instance, women and nonwhites expressed significantly more negative views of how the department handles diversity concerns than their white, male counterparts.
Yet what jumped out at Goff was the number of officers who ranked diversity training a 1 out of 7, or not at all valuable to them. Five-hundred officers ranked the training a 1 — the most common response — including 56 officers (49 white, seven nonwhite) who wrote that the training “tacitly accused whites of racism.”
“The instructor for the training was teaching under the assumption that all police officers were prejudiced against minorities, as he was a minority himself,” an unnamed officer wrote in the survey. “He spoke to the class like we were a room full of inmates being punished. It was very distasteful and a slap in the face to my integrity and professionalism as a police officer.”
In an executive summary, the report says Metro “officers have understood the message that racial bias is not to be tolerated, and those most identified with the department have aligned their behaviors with that value. This is the reason for optimism.
“However, for the segments of the organization that do not identify with LVMPD, in part because they feel their department suspects them of racism and/or corruption, there is a tendency to act inconsistently with the department values, engaging in behaviors that are likely to inflame negative sentiment against the department and, in turn, provoke further public safety concerns.”
The study authors offer seven recommendations:
• Integrate diversity training into operational responsibilities training.
• Prioritize use-of-force training in training updates.
• Provide a “science of contemporary bias” training for executives.
• Begin tracking pedestrian-stops data.
• Begin monitoring differences in officer-initiated vs. resident-initiated contacts.
• Create an officers’ advisory council.
• Reward excellence in diversity and inclusion.
Gillespie said the department would look into making these changes, but he wouldn’t put a timetable on when they would go into effect. While the recommendations would bring about large changes within the department, Gillespie didn’t foresee any of them having a significant impact on the budget.
“When meeting with the executive staff (I told them) I am fully committed to implementing the seven recommendations put forth,” Gillespie said.
Still, the authors advised against putting any of the recommendations in place without vigorous community dialogue and buy-in. Goff said if the community doesn’t understand the changes, it could create more resistance.
“In fact, it is the opinion of CPLE that without community buy-in, it is unlikely that these recommendations will have the desired effect of promoting equity and LVMPD officer behaviors consistent with the organization’s values,” the report said.