(Editors note: This article ran in the Valley Current on January 9 and is reprinted with permission. The Current Editor wrote “This article was the first installment of a two-part series delving into the practices and controversies surrounding LA City Controller Kenneth Mejia. The column aims to shed light on the biases, contentious decisions, and unorthodox theories that have marked Mejia’s tenure. In a role that demands impartiality and meticulous accuracy, the actions and methodologies of the City Controller hold significant consequences for the governance and public trust in Los Angeles.”)
By ANGELA MCGREGOR
A recent examination of LA City Controller Kenneth Mejia’s administration has uncovered politically driven staffing changes and questionable data management practices, casting a shadow over the office tasked with overseeing the city’s finances.
Out with the Old
In February of last year, the Current reported on the City Controller’s curious choice of staff — heavy on political bias, low on qualifications.
According to a former Controller’s office staffer, LA Controller Kenneth Mejia systematically dispensed with all the office’s political appointees and, in the process, ‘got rid of all the institutional knowledge that had been accumulated by [them].’”
Mejia replaced these seasoned auditors with individuals like Ashley Bennett, whom he appointed to the newly created position of ‘Director of Homelessness’.
Bennett was fired as an outreach worker by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), the organization that provide shelter, housing, and services to people experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles, in February 2020, ending her eight-month tenure with them, during which she encouraged campers in a massive encampment at Echo Park Lake to resist efforts to relocate to a temporary shelter or comply with the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD).
This appears to have been her only professional involvement with homeless individuals. Similarly, Mejia was vocal in his disapproval of the police, tweeting in 2020, ‘The police exist to uphold white supremacy,’ as reported by Los Angeles Magazine.
In April 2023, a former public sector manager and auditor, Tim Campbell wrote in CityWatch, “Instead of hiring experienced professionals, [Mejia] filled key positions with fellow ideologues who have no interest in being objective and doing the hard work.”
Campbell pointed out that these hires posed what auditing standards refer to as a ‘bias threat’: “The threat that an auditor will, as a result of political, ideological, social, or other convictions, take a position that is not objective.”
The Big Picture
A year later, as predicted, the Controller’s office has spewed forth a series of audits based upon sloppily assembled statistics and questionable data apparently focused on generating inflammatory headlines.
In August of last year, Mejia released a report stating that “Brown and Black people are arrested at a disproportionate rate, making up an average of 78.26% of all arrests over the past four years”.
The reports’ accompanying charts (labeled “LAPD Arrests by Race”) show that Hispanics made up between 48-52% of all arrests between 2019 and 2022.
The graph above visualizes the comparison between the population and arrest percentages by race in Los Angeles, based on the information from the report released by Mejia.
It shows that while Hispanics constitute 49% of the city’s population, they accounted for an average of 50% of all arrests between 2019 and 2022. African Americans, making up 8% of the population, constituted 27% of the arrests.
The ‘Other’ category includes all remaining racial groups. Note the red text indicating that 12% of the arrests labeled “LAPD” in the report were made by other agencies and included arrests of individuals not residing in Los Angeles. This factor is critical when interpreting the data’s accuracy and context.
Given the fact that Hispanics make up 49% of the overall population of Los Angeles (as of the 2022 census), figures for this group aren’t “disproportionate” at all.
As for African Americans, who constitute 8% of L.A’s population and constituted 27% of arrests, their arrest rate (according to police statistics) correlates with the rate at which they are also crime victims. As noted by the LAPD in their response, “Several studies, including the Center for Policing Equity & Policing Project identify that disparities in and of themselves do not mean discrimination exists.
Significant other factors such as the roles of poverty, education, and under-resourced communities have critical implications.”
Worse yet, the data analyzed by the controller’s office came from the Mayor’s Open Data Portal, which includes arrests not made by the LAPD, meaning that 12% of the arrests Mejia’s office labeled “LAPD” were made by other agencies and also included arrests of individuals who don’t live in Los Angeles.
In the second installment of our investigative series, we delve into the first of three audits released by LA City Controller Kenneth Mejia