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No bias found in L.A. County sheriff's arrests for obstructing police work

August 6, 2010 | 10:13 am

A report released Friday found no significant disparity in the racial breakdown of sole obstruction arrests made by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, compared with that of all arrests made by its deputies in a one-year span.

Arrests solely related to obstruction -- meaning someone is arrested for interfering with police work and for no other reason -- are often pointed to as vulnerable for racial bias.

The issue took the national spotlight last year after Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. was arrested by a Cambridge officer after Gates was attempting to enter his own home. Critics alleged racist policing. Because Gates is African American, they argued, rather than white, the officer interpreted his behavior as more threatening.

Friday's report, released by a special counsel to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, found that no such bias could be found in arrests made by sheriff's deputies in 2007. While blacks are overrepresented compared with population numbers in sole obstruction arrests, the report found, the proportions are similar to that of all arrests.

"Our findings do not demonstrate that there is a greater burden on blacks in general in the county [for obstruction]," said special counsel Merrick Bobb. "Even though the general criminal justice system in Los Angeles falls more heavily on blacks."

Despite overall equity in the county, the report did highlight some trouble spots.

In Lancaster, 64% of obstruction arrests made by deputies were against blacks, despite the fact that 42% of all arrests involved blacks, according to Bobb. The group makes up 17% of the overall population there, according to the report.

"There are places within the county where it is strongly disproportionate and one has to wonder what's going on there," Bobb said.

Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore said the report's overall findings were a credit to the department's policing techniques. He called the department "ahead of all law enforcement in terms of these situations."

Whitmore said the department would be keeping an eye on areas such as Lancaster, described as potentially problematic in the report.

"I wouldn't interpret them as problems," he said. "Are we aware of it? Yes. Have been, will be and we certainly take all that into consideration."

-- Robert Faturechi