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LASD Defends Practice of Stopping Latino Bicyclists, Says People Using Bikes for Transportation Are Generally Criminals

by Douglas Ankney

According to data obtained by the Los Angeles Times, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department (“LASD”) is targeting Latino bicyclists with pretextual stops. Since the bicyclists are on their vehicles—rather than in their vehicles—the stops are analogous to Terry stops (from Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968)) that permits officers to stop vehicles based on “reasonable suspicion.”

Obscure, rarely enforced traffic laws provide the requisite reasonable suspicion to justify the Terry stops. Missing reflectors and riding on a sidewalk are just two of the pretexutal reasons LASD deputies cite for the stops. Of the more than 44,000 bike stops documented by the LASD since 2017, around 70% of the cyclists were Latino. And 85% of the cyclists were searched even though there was no reason to suspect any illegal activity had occurred, was occurring, or about to occur. Most of the cyclists were handcuffed and placed into the backseat of patrol cars while watching deputies rummage through their belongings.

Of the cyclists interviewed by the LA Times, many reported feeling angry and humiliated. Many of them had been stopped on multiple occasions. The majority of the cyclists recognized the stops for what they were: fishing expeditions by LASD deputies targeting minorities living in poor communities (white cyclists in more affluent parts of the county are seldom stopped and searched while bike riding).

The LASD defends the practice by alleging that people using bicycles for transportation are generally criminals. Deputies asked 93% of the cyclists if they were on probation or parole. But for all those stops and the attendant harassment, deputies found illegal items only about 8% of the time. Weapons were seized just 164 times—less than one-half of one percent of all the searches. Perhaps one day the LASD leadership will train deputies to fight crime instead of how to be racists. 


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