Is the L.A. County Sheriff’s Dept. Targeting Latino Drivers Along the I-5? Three Investigations Now Underway.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has launched a pair of inquiries into a highway drug enforcement program that some believe is targeting Latino drivers along a 40-mile stretch of the 5 freeway near Santa Clarita.

A recent Los Angeles Times investigation of more than 9,000 traffic stops made by the department’s Domestic Highway Enforcement Team revealed that 69% of drivers stopped were Latino. Two-thirds of them had their vehicles searched compared to other racial and ethnic groups which saw their vehicles searched less than half the time.

On Thursday, Sheriff Jim McDonnell confirmed that auditors are examining the traffic stop data. In addition, the department’s constitutional policing advisor will review the team’s practices. These internal probes will be carried out alongside an independent review from the county’s inspector general.

Members of the department’s highway enforcement team have flatly denied that the six-year-old program is targeting Latinos or any other racial or ethnic group. They have also criticized the Times’ comparison of Sheriff’s Department data to that of the California Highway Patrol, noting that the CHP patrols a much wider area.

The program has yielded some key drug enforcement successes. It has resulted in more than 450 convictions related to drug transportation and other crimes and has netted more than one ton of methamphetamine, two tons of marijuana, hundreds of pounds of cocaine, and millions of dollars believed to be tied to narcotics. However, 11 of 23 cases have been dismissed due to deputy credibility issues or because of unlawful searches, according to the Times.