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"They say where there’s smoke, there's fire; but sometimes it's a self-induced fire": Understanding claims of unequal treatment among Mexican-American officers in the Los Angeles Police Department

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Published onAug 28, 2023
"They say where there’s smoke, there's fire; but sometimes it's a self-induced fire": Understanding claims of unequal treatment among Mexican-American officers in the Los Angeles Police Department


Serving as an ethnographic case study and utilizing qualitative interviews, this study focuses on Mexican-American police officers and their perceptions of claims of unequal treatment based on race/ethnicity from other officers. The study finds that officers ideologically stand firmly against racism and discrimination. When non-overt claims of unequal treatment based on race/ethnicity are encountered, officers develop negative perceptions of claiming officers. Officers revert to individualized, merit-based, and other colorblind justifications to interpret and dismiss the claims. It is argued that given the lack of the overt nature of most claims today, facilitated by the most common occupational context in which the topic of race is encountered (with the community), this provides the foundation for interpreting claims of unequal treatment based on race/ethnicity among other officers.

Keywords: Policing, Culture, Mexican-American, Qualitative, Ethnicity

According to the Department of Justice, most local officers in the United States are White, comprising approximately 75 percent (Reaves, 2011). The underrepresentation of minorities, particularly Hispanics/Latinos, in law enforcement, is evident at all levels, including state and federal agencies (Reaves & Maskaly, 2015). Despite Hispanics/Latinos accounting for about 18 percent of the U.S. population (Colby & Ortman, 2015), only 12 percent of officers were Hispanic or Latino in 2013, with an increase from 5 percent representation in 1987 (United States Department of Justice, 2019). However, this increase in minority representation is primarily observed in larger police departments, where Latinos constitute 26 percent of full-time officers in departments serving one million or more residents. In contrast, departments serving 10,000 to 49,999 residents had a Latino representation of approximately 5 to 6 percent (United States Department of Justice, 2019). The composition disparity is attributed to larger departments having a more diverse applicant pool and employing specific recruitment strategies, including practices targeting minority applicants (Reaves & Malasky, 2015). Notably, Latino officers hold a significant presence in the three largest local police departments in the country, namely the NYPD, Chicago PD, and the focus of this study, the LAPD.

The projected demographic shifts in the U.S., with no single racial/ethnic majority and a significant Hispanic/Latino population by 2050, necessitate a comprehensive understanding and examination of current and future influxes of minority officers, particularly Hispanic/Latinos (Brown & Lopez, 2013). Scholars have already emphasized the need for more research on Hispanics/Latinos in policing, including their interactions within the department and the broader community (Gau et al., 2021; Martinez, 2007; Urbina & Alvarez, 2015). While it is essential to investigate the realities faced by Hispanics/Latinos in law enforcement, there is also a practical need to comprehend how the officers navigate the dynamics of policing, the community, and the institutional culture.

This work hopes to provide further insight into the experiences and ideologies of Latino, specifically Mexican-American, police officers by examining their perceptions of claims of unequal treatment based on race/ethnicity. As an ethnographic case study, the paper derives from the respondents' own words of where they ideologically stand on their colleagues' real-life claims of racism and discrimination. As part of a larger project, Male Mexican-American police officer respondents from the Los Angeles Police Department were interviewed and provided insight into their experiences and ideology. With the research on African American officers, examining experience and ideology is usually done by comparing them to their White occupational counterparts. While not a direct comparison of the current respondents to either racial/ethnic group, the underlying consideration that permeated the collection of data was whether the respondents aligned more with the research on African American officers' experiences or with the experiences of the historical majority of White officers, and potentially as to the rationale of why. The value of this information is prominent: If the experiences and ideologies of Latino officers align more with those of African American officers, the anticipated positive changes resulting from increased ethnic and racial diversity within police departments are more likely to occur as the Latino population grows. Conversely, if the experiences align more with those of White officers, it suggests that today's police culture will persist ideologically, despite internal racial diversity.

What Do We Know About Minorities and Police Culture?

Culture encompasses symbols, language, customs, and norms contributing to group cohesion and functioning (Paoline, 2003). The culture within police departments developed over time for several reasons, including environmental factors, the perceived danger associated with the occupation, and the homogeneity of the officer population (Crank, 2010; Paoline, 2003). While there are positive aspects of police culture, such as helping with the stress and strain of the position, most common associations with traditional police culture are historically hostile. For example, scholars have stated that police culture hinders major police reform (Dean, 1995; Goldsmith, 1990). Others have stated that culture affects citizens' rights and police authority abuses (Brown, 1988; Kappler et al., 1998; McElvain, 2006). Researchers have also found that culture has hindered internal reporting of officer wrongdoing (Heck, 1992). Police culture affects relations between citizens and police but can also affect police-police interactions and the department environment. For example, Brown (1988) found that police culture dictates that established members treat new members suspiciously. Based on the perspective that new officers have yet to prove themselves as wholly part of the established ingroup, new officers are expected to display their loyalty before veteran officers accept them (to receive the same protection, loyalty, and privileges as the other members). The process includes backing other officers when needed and being willing to use excessive force on suspects to prove their loyalty (McElvain, 2006).

Haarr's (1997) study examining the interactions and perceptions of officers from different races/ethnicities is particularly relevant to this analysis. Using qualitative research methods where White officers are the majority, she finds that increased officer diversity has not helped with inter-racial interactions. The African American officers in Haarr's work believe racial problems are grounded on discrimination and prejudice from White officers. Similarly to Haarr’s (1997) findings, Toch (2002) found that White officers believed African American officers received preferential treatment, leading to heightened racial tension within the department.

Historically, studies on minorities in law enforcement, primarily focusing on African American officers, have highlighted unfair treatment and discriminatory practices (Barlow & Barlow, 2000; Wilson et al., 2015). More importantly, though it seems implied, the officers detected the unequal treatment and practices. Studies show officers of different races/ethnicities have differing work-related attitudes and perceptions of work conditions (Beard, 1977). These attitudes and perceptions include how their performance as officers is judged, including the feeling of not being valued (Leinen, 1985), becoming more socially isolated and distanced (Buzawa, 1981), and being perceived as militant and facing retaliation from White officers (Dowler, 2005). Lastly, Bolton (2003) describes how different experiences can vary substantially by department and area and finds that smaller agencies and rural areas are likely to be more hostile to African American officers.

Latino's Experiences in Law Enforcement

The few studies focusing on Latino officers also found that officers perceived unequal and unfair treatment among themselves and the community (Carter, 1986; Duran, 2015). Hasell and Brandl (2009) found that Latino and African American officers reported more negative work experiences than White officers. Additionally, minority officers in command positions feel their authority is undermined or questioned more than White officers in similar command positions (Hassell & Brandl, 2009). In similar research, Stroshine and Brandl (2011) also believe that those with the highest department representation have the best experiences. This might indicate that the higher number of new minority officers could increase minority positive experiences in departments.


This paper builds on Gallardo's (2020) work, arguing that there was a perception of a normal state of racial tension among the officers. Further, the officers' understanding of racism or discrimination as strictly existing in an overt and unmistakable form provides the context to the officers' beliefs that tensions were strictly sentiments and not converted into discriminatory actions. Additionally, the respondents' specific focus on African American officers as examples of officers who make claims and face racial issues at work potentially indicates an expansion of a racial Black/White occupational binary paradigm, more accurately represented and categorized as a Non-Black/Black binary. As this further develops and broadens the earlier piece by Gallardo (2020) focusing on perceptions of race/ ethnicity within the department, the same corresponding qualitative interviews with Mexican-American officers were utilized.

Interview Questions

The interview questions encompassed a comprehensive range of inquiries, incorporating demographic information, probing into interactions, and delving into the intricate realms of race/ethnicity, police culture, and community relations/perceptions. Demographic inquiries regarding race/ethnic identification were sourced from Irlbeck's (2008) work. Questioning about race and ethnicity entailed probing into possible experiences of unequal treatment during their tenure and awareness of instances where others had lodged claims of unequal treatment based on race/ethnicity. Explorations into officer-to-officer interactions and the fabric of police culture encompassed their perception of the department, fellow officers' response to potential retribution, and their inclination to report misconduct or transgressions committed by their colleagues. Furthermore, questions about the officer's perception of the command staff were incorporated within the questionnaire (specifically regarding responses to reporting misconduct). Lastly, inquiries concerning the community covered the officer's relationship with and interactions within said community. The specific items that generated most of the data for this work, similar to Portillos (2015), focused on interactions with the Latino community, police culture, and racialized interactions.


The study sample comprised a cohort of twenty-three male officers hailing from the Los Angeles area. Regarding professional experience, each respondent boasted a minimum of one year in law enforcement, occupying positions below the rank of Sergeant. With their duty stations scattered throughout the expanse of the Los Angeles area, this sample captured a broad spectrum of perspectives and experiences within the region. The sample was also limited to lower-ranking officers. Researchers have noted essential differences and changes that could affect police culture over time, including rank (Farkas & Manning, 1997; Manning, 1995; Paoline, 2001). Manning (1995) differentiates officer ranks into three types: the lower participants (patrol and street sergeants), middle managers, and top command (deputy chiefs and chiefs). Manning asserts that different ranks are associated with different norms, expectations, and goals, affecting their actions/ ideology and culture.


It is worth noting that these officers had both parents tracing their roots to Mexican heritage. The decision to confine the sample exclusively to Mexican-heritage officers rather than encompassing the broader Latinx officer population was a carefully deliberated choice. This was predicated upon the realization that the term "Latinx" or "Hispanic" encapsulates a broad pan-ethnic category, lacking a uniform and universally recognized identity (De La Garza, 1992). Acknowledging the need for specificity and precision within the study, it was deemed imperative to narrow the focus to officers of Mexican heritage, allowing for a deeper exploration of the unique experiences and nuanced dynamics particular to this distinctive subset. Future studies would have to specifically focus on other specific ethnic groups within the Hispanic or Latinx categorization.

As Irlbeck (2008) described in her work on Latino officer self-identification, one of the first assumptions when researching ethnic/racial minorities is whether they identify with that ethnic/racial category in the first place. A small percentage of officers in her study did not self-identify as Latino and instead self-identified as White. This differing self-identification was primarily because one parent was not Hispanic/Latino, and the officer self-identified more with the Non-Hispanic/Latino patronage, which was White. Two questions regarding the current respondents' self-identification were asked: an open-ended question requesting self-categorization based on race/ethnicity and whether they identified explicitly as Hispanic/Latino. It is worth noting that these officers had both parents tracing their roots to Mexican heritage. All the respondents self-identified through a combination of the questions as Hispanic/Latino. Some self-identified as Hispanic/Latino in their open-ended self-classification, while others categorized themselves with other responses, yet when asked directly with the follow-up if they were Latino/ Hispanic, they answered yes. No respondent self-identified as White.


​​To structure the analysis process, a coding methodology rooted in grounded theory was employed as the study aimed to simultaneously describe and explain the phenomenon under investigation (Corbin & Strauss, 1990). By giving voice to the participants' lived experiences and unique viewpoints, the analysis sought to provide a comprehensive portrayal of the phenomenon at hand, as including diverse perspectives helps add depth and richness to the findings (Strauss & Corbin, 1994). Additionally, the researcher approached the analysis process critically, considering potential alternative explanations and diligently considering alternative hypotheses. Furthermore, the interviews were reanalyzed to enhance the study's validity further. This involved revisiting the data and subjecting it to a fresh round of scrutiny and analysis. By subjecting the data to multiple iterations of examination and reanalysis, the researcher aimed to mitigate any potential biases or oversights that may have initially been overlooked. Several significant themes emerged throughout the analysis, reflecting the central patterns and insights gathered from the data. These themes revolved around the perception of claims of unequal treatment, the potential role of retaliation in officer action, and how officers encounter the concept of race while on the job and its likely influence.


Perception Of Claims of Unequal Treatment

When asked about unequal treatment, officers resolutely established that even if they had not personally perceived they had experienced unequal treatment based on race, they were entirely against unfair treatment and would not condone or defend it. As officers stated,

No, to my knowledge, I have not been subjected to discriminatory, racist actions. It's just a few bad apples that spoil the bunch. Officers are good people. We are people. The public and the media forget that. We are against brutality, racism, and sexism as well. We have a code to protect and look out for each other; we have to. When shit hits the fan, we all have to be 100% confident that someone will be there to have your back. That being said, I don't know any officer who is willing to lose their job to protect someone who uses racist language or has racist ideas. It's something I know no one wants. (Interviewee 17)

I have never experienced any type of racism or things like that [in the department]. Not saying it hasn't happened to people; I mean, it probably has. But I've never seen it since I've been here, and I won't stand for that B.S. I'm not going to stand by if you decide to do something stupid. I'll be the first person in line; I'm not going down and losing my job for your ignorant ideas. But I haven't personally experienced it from another officer, coworker, or anyone in the department. Period. (Interviewee 09)

Officers strongly oppose unfair treatment based on race/ethnicity and expressed their willingness to intervene if they witnessed racism or discrimination among fellow officers. However, despite discussing hypothetical scenarios where they would support their colleagues, no officer mentioned defending an officer who claimed to have experienced such mistreatment. While respondents acknowledged that other officers had reported facing racism and discrimination, they made it clear that they did not personally verify the accuracy of these accusations. None of the officers stated their belief in the validity of the accusations they were aware of. Nonetheless, they did describe the perceived circumstances or context in which these allegations of racism or discrimination were said to have taken place.

How are Real Claims Perceived?

The respondents' perception of those groups/ individuals who have claimed racism or discrimination in the department was that they were generally not believed. As described by officers,

I've seen the others [officers] claim [racism/discrimination]. From the ones that I've known, that I've seen, I don't think that those claims have been valid. I think that some of that, some of that attention was brought upon themselves through work habits, through work ethic, those conditions. (Interviewee 04)

Yeah, there was a detective for a long time because he did not make Sergeant. And my remarks are not meant to nullify those experiences or perspectives, but it wasn't. I did not feel he was discriminated against, and if someone says that they were, they may have been; I can't speak for anyone else's experiences. But I have to tell you, in particular, individuals that have brought forth the discrimination banner if you know their work that's not what it is. It's not because you're Latino, or Black or a woman. It's because you're a bad employee. There may be Latinos and African Americans who are discriminated against, and that's the only reason why they don't fulfill their aspirations, but that's not the case with you…(Interviewee 12)

As suggested in the previous quotes, there were alternative rationalizations and explanations for unfair treatment claims made by officers in the cases the officers personally described. One officer described not only an alternative explanation for the claims but specifically focused on the lack of veracity to claims and focused on an individualized explanation (while still describing how negatively they perceived unequal treatment). As described,

There's a saying where there's smoke, there's fire, but a lot of time, it's a self-induced fire. Some people are just looking to file a lawsuit, I don't know. Different people have different agendas for one reason or another. I haven't seen it; I've heard it. I will speak up if I saw it [racism/discrimination]. I have not seen it, and I would not put up with it. (Interviewee 06)

Another officer made the concept more explicit. This officer described that minorities, in general, do not face differing or unequal experiences based on race but that claims of racism or discrimination were a purposeful manipulation and lie,

I don't think they face anything in general. I don't like when somebody starts to have a problem; like maybe you would ask me that today and I'm a new officer, and I haven't been treated differently, and I'm fine. I'm fine, and then you see me a month or two from now, and I'm having problems maybe with training; well, it's only because they don't like me because I'm female or my race or whatever. It's kind of like an ace. I'm not going to have a problem, but just in case, and I see a lot of them holding that as an ace in their pocket. But if you ask them, I have asked them, 'no no no,' but then they'll start playing a race card, the woman card, whatever. You were fine up to this point, but then this was kind of like my ace in the hole, just in case, so when we needed it, it will be played.(Interviewee 20)

Officers do not look favorably at groups or individuals claiming to have experienced racism or discrimination while on the job. Many claimed that officers were either not telling the truth, were too sensitive, or based the claims on individual merits unrelated to race/ethnicity, which was (to them) the genuine issue at hand. Officers described that racism/discrimination might happen, but that was not the case with the specific officers they knew. The officers they knew were not victims of unfair or differing treatment. Instead, they had some deficient individualized trait that was the real reason behind the officer's issues and subsequent claims.

Providing Greater Context

Potential Retaliation and “Doing the Right Thing”

There was one specific incident regarding race and retaliation in the sample. An officer described making an offhand comment that included racial content. The comment included observations about the staff's singular Latinx racial composition in the scenario he and other officers were in while socializing on duty. The comment seemed like a benign statement that included race/ethnicity as a subject to the respondent. However, the officers in the scenario did not interpret the statement about race/ethnicity similarly. As described,

I made that comment. It's not until later that week that I find out that, apparently, I'm very sensitive to Latino issues and that not to say anything negative about minorities around me because I'm militant. Based on that comment! You can't speak your mind when it comes to that kind of stuff because you're going to get alienated. (Interviewee 22)

In general, officers know there are potential ramifications to breaking with the occupational culture, potentially from other rank-and-file and higher-ranking command officers. The quick response by the respondents' colleagues shows the way race is understood as a very sensitive and prominent topic in the department. While it might be inferred that officers may not report incidences because of the potential for retaliation, the data suggest that officers will still go beyond and break with the culture in certain instances, as they previously stated they would defend another officer if they witnessed racism or discrimination firsthand.

When to Report and Defend

While officers are aware of the potential retaliation they might face if breaking with occupational culture, they described dissenting from the culture by reporting other officers' actions (though unrelated to race/ethnicity). In an example incident, an officer reported on the actions of other officers in the community. The officer in this specific situation reported the officers and did so, knowing full well the potential for repercussions that would probably follow. As described,

I was disenchanted because I couldn't believe this happened. But long story short, I reported officers that were doing misconduct in the community that we serve. I reported it, and it was the right thing to do, and I knew I was probably going to get fall back from it, but I said you know what? It is what I believe is right. (Interviewee 03)

This officer also described the repercussions and retaliation taken by other officers when specifically asked if the officer faced any repercussions or retaliation for reporting the officers for "what they felt was doing the right thing." As described,

Well, I did do the right thing [emphasis by the respondent], and then when I came back to work, and I was assigned to work with another officer. Maybe that officer didn't know what happened. So we're going to go clean the car, because you have to put all your equipment together. I would hear other officers tell him hey 'John' watch your back; you're working with 'Tom,' who's going to dime you out. They say you wear a jacket, meaning that you have been identified as a rat, and that means people don't like him for whatever reason. (Interviewee 03)

The officer knew there were consequences to reporting the misconduct and breaking the occupational norms and proceeded with the actions regardless. The officer prioritized what they thought was right even if they were to face the consequences of their actions from other officers.

Additionally, from the officers' perspectives, they felt it was vital that there was no general mechanism for doing the 'right thing' and not facing the consequences. Specifically, officers described no way to protect officers who reported other officers' actions. As stated,

There exists no mechanism in the organization right now that would support an officer from doing the right thing and, in turn, being covered. You're going to get officers ostracized, period. (Interviewee 09)

Another officer reporting another event with possible officer misconduct echoed a similar response. As described,

I did the right thing, and I'm the one getting hounded? So, this is where I started having second thoughts. Man, I thought I was doing the right thing in a department that supported this kind of behavior when you report it. Maybe not. (Interviewee 01)

Officers also described that action or lack of action taken on their behalf when they felt retaliated against. Specifically, officers reiterated that they felt a disconnect between the rank-and-file officers and the command staff/department. They did not feel supported even when "doing the right thing." As summed up by two officers,

You can't go against the culture. For myself, for example, I blew the whistle on some stuff that I found to be inappropriate and whatnot, and for a second, let's just suppose that perhaps what I blew the whistle on wasn't that big of a deal. But let's go even a step further; let's say there was smoke, but there was no fire. Let's give the department the benefit of the doubt: I overreacted. Now the department's appropriate response is he overreacted: Let's suspend him? Because I tried to do the right thing? (Interviewee 18)

They say that the patrol officers are the backbone of the department. We are. We take the brunt of the hate, the heat, everything from the public, and you reward them in this manner? No wonder you have bad cops, and no one wants to work the streets because the bottom of the bottom are out there in the streets. And it's sad we have good officers in the street, but when faced with that stuff? It is very damning and damaging. We do everything out in the streets, but now we also have to watch our backs from the people who are supposed to take care of us? That's bad. (Interviewee 08)

Officers are willing to break with the occupational culture, knowing full well there could be repercussions and consequences for their actions if they believe it is the right thing to do. Officers are willing and have demonstrated standing up against issues they felt were wrong and reported them. However, in the instances described by the respondents, the actions that officers reported seemed clear and obviously the right thing to do by the officers, unlike the expected less overt manifestations of race/ethnicity on the job today.

Community Interactions and Race

Officers' most memorable experiences related to race/ethnicity were primarily tied to their interactions with the community rather than fellow officers. These conversations about race predominantly occurred during officer interactions with the community, where officers portrayed the community positively. However, officers frequently discussed negative encounters with the public regarding race/ethnicity. One situation involved participants recounting interactions where potential suspects of a different race/ethnicity accused the officer of favoring individuals of the same race/ethnicity based on their own racial background. As officers described,

I've gotten some calls where we have had to deal with people who were critical of my race or my ethnicity, and they thought they were getting an unfair shake because I was fighting with that person. You know, if this person was White or if they were African American, well, you're only helping out the Latino because you're one of them. It happens quite frequently to all of us, no matter what; White officers, African-American officers. But I will say this, I think that the people who are the hardest on us are those that identify with us: Latinos are hard on Latinos, African Americans are hard on African American officers. (Interviewee 11)

As expected, because officers are anti-racism and its manifestations, including perceived aspects such as preferential treatment based on race, respondents were adamant about their stance on differing treatment based solely on race. Officers described that any preferential treatment for minorities would be considered prejudiced and discriminatory towards other groups, and they would not do it.

Officers also described some unfavorable responses from community members when they enforced the law and would not provide the perceived preferential treatment. As described,

I've experienced the reverse, where you know, call it discrimination, call it whatever word. I was bantered and badgered for enforcing a law against my people. And I was expected to give them breaks because, you know, I looked just like them, and that was not the case. You break the law, you break the law. Everyone can be held to the same standard. I was called names; I was called all kinds of stuff by individuals who were in the Latino community. But the other day [pause], I knew that what I was doing was the right thing. I will not be prejudiced. I was not giving preferential treatment to anyone. I was upholding the law with equal value to anyone and anybody. (Interviewee 10)

Moreover, respondents described situations where they were the ones who faced accusations of discrimination by Latinx citizens whom they were interacting with. As described,

I've been called racist against my own. It's usually when they don't get their way. I can't let you get away! You broke the law! (Interviewee 16)

Oh, they'll even say you're racist, you're racist against your own kind, and I've been said that a lot. As a police officer, I've been called racist by Latinos and Mexicans, whatever, by the Hispanic community left and right. When I don't help someone get away, a crash, DUI, no, I can't help you, you broke the law. 'Oh come on, you're a homie,' Are you freaking crazy? I'm not going to lose my job. I'm going to do my job. I've been called racist to the nth degree by my own people. To me, that's very disheartening. As a police officer and as a human being, you're out there breaking the law; you want me to show you mercy? I understand if you are begging for money. I hate my job that day when I have to go shush the homeless. 'I know why you're here, hang in there.' But if you're breaking the law, I'm not going to do that. When I get the racist against your own kind of thing, it hurts me, it hurts me personally, and this is wrong. (Interviewee 07)

The experiences reported by officers regarding race and ethnicity primarily centered around their interactions with the community rather than within their department. These encounters often involved negative perceptions and challenges related to race and ethnicity. Officers shared instances where they faced targeting based on their own race or ethnicity, with potential suspects accusing them of bias due to their backgrounds. However, their narratives made it clear that these officers strongly opposed any form of unequal treatment based on race/ethnicity and consistently believed they acted in accordance with that belief, attempting to provide equal treatment regardless of race/ethnicity. Interestingly, despite their conscious dedication to fairness, officers also encountered criticism and accusations of discrimination from community members. Overall, comprehending officers' experiences regarding race and ethnicity is vital for gaining further insight into their perspectives on discrimination and biases within the profession. It sheds light on the challenges they face in their interactions with the community and how these experiences can influence their understanding of claims of unequal treatment among their fellow officers.


Given the changes in laws and policies, most overt individualized forms of racism and discrimination in occupations have been significantly reduced. New iterations of unequal treatment based on race/ethnicity are not as easy to recognize (Bonilla Silva, 2006). These subtle manifestations of race and their associated consequences pose a challenge for officers when comprehending and validating their colleagues' claims of racism or discrimination. The respondents do not claim that racism or discrimination does not happen. Still, if it is not readily apparent, they do not believe that race/ethnicity was the defining reason for the outcome. Secondly, they are inclined to rationalize alternative explanations for the outcomes observed.

Bonilla Silva's (2006) examination of colorblindness is particularly relevant in understanding the officers' perspectives. Colorblindness refers to the belief that race no longer plays a significant role in shaping life outcomes. As stated, if racism or discrimination is not readily apparent, the respondents tended to dismiss race/ethnicity as the defining reason for unequal outcomes and instead searched for alternative explanations. This aligns with the colorblind perspective, which downplays the significance of race and attributes disparities to individual factors (Bonilla Silva, 2006). The concept of colorblindness is prevalent among officers, as they (though the sample was overwhelmingly White) are more likely to endorse colorblind ideologies than the general population (Hughes et al., 2016).

In addition to their reluctance to attribute claims of unequal treatment solely to race/ethnicity, respondents rationalized these claims by attributing them to individual officers' inadequate performance or personality traits. This process further aligns with Bonilla-Silva's (2006) discussion on rationalization for disparate outcomes, wherein individuals try to make sense of unequal treatment by attributing it to factors other than race/ethnicity. Additionally, by assigning responsibility to the claiming officers themselves, such as questioning their competency or suggesting that they may have contributed to their own problems, the officers can maintain the belief that the unequal treatment is not a result of potential systematic or institutional issues. This rationalization process also allows officers to reconcile the existence of unequal treatment while keeping their confidence in the fairness and meritocracy of the institution. This aligns with Bonilla-Silva's (2006) argument that new racism operates through subtle mechanisms that perpetuate racial inequalities while maintaining the appearance of colorblindness.

Stereotypes also often reinforce negative beliefs and attitudes about racial minority groups, contributing to their marginalization (Bonilla-Silva, 2006; Omi & Winant, 2014). Specifically, in the context of the respondents, they generally associate race/ethnicity with community activity; officers associate race/ethnicity with actions taken by suspects, precisely as tactical responses to officers' justifiable actions. To the respondents, suspects use race/ethnicity (possibly trying to get some leeway or preferential treatment from the officers) as a method for trying to get out of an arrest or citation. Given the respondents' perception of race neutrality, this is negatively regarded. This is especially viewed as a negative interaction when explicitly dealing in the occupational context in which officers most often encounter actual claims of racism or discrimination, not with other officers, but instead, they encounter claims while patrolling the streets. To the respondents, claims of racism and discrimination are a last resort and frivolous tactic used by suspects not to get arrested or receive a citation. Respondents view these accusations through a colorblind lens as an invalid excuse, a "card" that can be played when needed by the minority suspect when they do not get their way when an officer perceives they have a valid reason for the citation or the arrest. As a result, officers may interpret claims of racism or discrimination as mere excuses or strategies used by racial/ethnic minorities to gain unearned advantages, which can easily be explained or justified by personal deficiencies, further reinforcing colorblind attitudes and dismissing the validity of such claims. This perception of claims is essential to how the respondents understand and view racism and discrimination, not only with the community but also with other officers.

It is argued that the primary interaction where race and claims of racism or discrimination are manifested provides the essential occupational context in which race-centered interactions and non-overt claims of racism or discrimination between officers are understood. Because claims of racism or discrimination are associated with suspect activity, specifically invalid or unjustifiable activity, it is understood in the same occupational context when other officers claim unequal treatment. Given that the form of racism or discrimination that officers may claim is not as evident as others might need it to be as evidence that it is actually occurring, officers' claims of racism or discrimination are viewed as not credible. Claims of racism or discrimination are viewed in the same way as if a suspect was to claim racism or discrimination; as a last resort tactic by minority officers because they did not get their desired outcome, specifically in the case of minority officers, they did not earn their desired outcome in which they claim they have been the victim of racism or discrimination. Instead, officers justify dismissing the claims of racism and discrimination on colorblind, individualistic merit-based criteria. The officer is perceived negatively for "making excuses" because this is the same concept and context they have experienced: suspects' use of race/ethnicity. Hypothetically, officers who would be potentially more blatantly discriminated against would not be regarded in the same manner as suspects. On the contrary, because of the apparent nature of the claim, officers would be supported by other officers, as respondents have vehemently claimed.

Lastly, it is believed that the potential for retaliation would not influence an officer's reporting of a perceived incident depending on the officer's perception of what is morally right. As demonstrated, respondents still did what they believed to be "the right thing," even when they knew they would get some form of retaliation for reporting incidents or other officers. The key for the officers was that the incident was apparent enough that they felt no ambiguity in reporting other officers. The officers consciously knew they would receive negative feedback and retaliation for it but still did it; the possible retaliation based on the occupational and cultural norms was not an impediment. Perceived retaliation (from other officers or the department) was an obstacle officers were willing to face when they knew they were "doing the right thing."


From examining claims of racism and discrimination, there seems to be an apparent colorblind reaction by the officers. This process is facilitated by the negative occupational context of their interactions with the community. As a result, the officers' claims of racism and discrimination based on non-obvert types of unequal treatment are not validated. As Haarr (1997) found, a colorblind ideology permeated the majority-White department, creating tension among the different races/ethnicities. While not a direct comparison, one cannot help noticing that the officers interviewed flow more towards the White officers regarding their beliefs and perceptions of discrimination claims. With the country's changing demographics, we can expect the number of Latinos and especially the percentage of Latino officers to increase, specifically in larger and medium-large departments. The implied and expected outcome is that increasing diversity would help community-police and police-police race relations. However, if Latino officers' ideology conforms more toward a colorblind and traditional White officer perception, that change is not likely to happen, and the potential outcome is that while there might be racial/ethnic departmental diversity, ideologically, at least with claims of racism and discrimination, the dominant occupational culture continues to exist and potentially expand.

Limitations and Future Research

Given the uniqueness of the demographics of the LAPD, the transferability of the study's proposed results is limited. Additionally, examining other Latinxs' across the country is necessary as the experience of Mexican-American officers in Los Angeles may not represent other Hispanic/Latinos. Further research must examine what specific contexts Hispanic/Latino officers are similar in ideology to White officers and where they might differ and be more similar to African American officers. Research is also needed along the spectrum of different-sized departments with differing percentages of Hispanic/Latino officers, including studies examining Hispanic/Latino middle managers' and top command's experiences and ideology. In terms of the current study, the logical next step is examining officers who have defended other officers in their claims of unequal treatment based on race (and why) and examining claims among officers who have received additional training on race (such as implicit bias training). Lastly, what is evident from this work is that the fear of retaliation will not stop officers from coming forward. They have proven that they want to do the right thing; they simply have to recognize it.


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