The Beverly Hills Police Department has been accused of racial profiling along Rodeo Drive, with new records showing Black people have been disproportionately arrested in the famed luxury shopping district.
“The demographics show that there are not many Black people who live in Beverly Hills,” civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, who is overseeing a lawsuit against the city and members of the department, said at a press conference last month. “You had to be intentional to try to arrest those many Black people in Beverly Hills.”
Records obtained by the Los Angeles Times showed that 90 people were arrested by a special unit within the department, dubbed the Rodeo Drive Team, in the two months after its creation in summer 2020. Of the 90 arrested, an eye-popping 80 were Black. Police have yet to explain why Black people have been disproportionately apprehended.
The task force was initially created when a panel of residents reported an increase in crime in August 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic.
According to the Times, police documents show that the task force was meant to target quality-of-life crimes, like loud music, cannabis smoking, parking violations, and gambling. While overall crime in Beverly Hills was actually down during that period, the opulent shops that line Rodeo Drive had seen an uptick in burglaries and thefts.
But within days, the task force reportedly shifted its focus, instead targeting people who might be committing state benefits fraud. A month later, cops had seized weapons, more than $460,000 in cash, and nearly 200 unemployment benefit cards, making 87 identity-theft arrests. Most of the arrested were never actually charged with a crime, the Times reports.
The team’s lieutenant wrote in an internal message that benefits fraud—in which alleged offenders were reaping state benefits through fake identities—had become rampant, complaining that “rap songs even brag and educate listeners” about it.
Another member of the team said in an email, without offering any evidence, that “L.A. gangs are using [state benefit] fraud money to purchase guns and drugs.”
By the end of October 2020, the Rodeo unit had been disbanded, with a unit supervisor writing that crime had “lessened.”
It wasn’t until September 2021 that a couple filed a class-action lawsuit in the Superior Court of California alleging police discrimination and that their constitutional rights had been violated.
Jasmine Williams and Khalil White were visiting L.A. when they were detained by police for riding a scooter on a Rodeo Drive sidewalk, something that they said was legal in their hometown of Philadelphia. Though charges were later dropped, the two were arrested and ended up spending a night in jail during their vacation.
“The judge immediately dismissed the charges because he knew, like they knew, the only reason this young Black couple was arrested in Beverly Hills was because they were Black,” Crump said after a Sept. 1 hearing.
The lawsuit states that Black people “were seized without reasonable suspicion or probable cause, suffered excessive force, and/or maliciously prosecuted on false charges by members of the Beverly Hills Police Department and/or...Rodeo Drive Task Force.”
As for the benefits fraud issue, Bradley Gage, an attorney representing Williams and White, said that he’s all for people being prosecuted if they’ve committed that crime, but he’s confused as to why so many are Black people.
“How do you determine a person is suspicious of [benefits] fraud?” he asked.
Since the conference, Gage said that he and Crump have received nearly a hundred complaints of racial profiling during the brief time the Rodeo Drive Team patrolled the area.
On Wednesday, Lakisha Swift said at a press conference with the two attorneys that she was handcuffed for 20 minutes because her car was over the limit line at a red light.
“Can you imagine a white woman being put in handcuffs because she was three inches past the limit line at a stoplight?” Crump asked.