Over the weekend, the Los Angeles Police Department was forced to open an investigation into how in the world a recruiting advertisement could possibly have ended up on the right-wing propaganda website Breitbart News. Perhaps, Chief Michel Moore suggested on Twitter, someone was attempting to "spoof" the department in an attempt to "discredit" it.
Screenshots of the advertisement began circulating on Friday, a photograph of a policewoman in uniform overlaid with the words, "Choose your future. LAPD is hiring!" The ad running on a site like Breitbart "creates a negative juxtaposition to our core values," the department said in a statement. Since 2013, the Guardian reports, more than 500 people have been killed by on-duty police officers or died in police custody; one analysis has found that police in the Los Angeles metropolitan area shoot an average of one person every five days. Last week, prosecutors announced that they would not be filing criminal charges against an off-duty LAPD officer who killed an intellectually disabled man in June.
Moore's suspicions notwithstanding, there is probably not any great conspiracy at work here to "discredit" the LAPD. The likeliest explanation for how the advertisement came to be run on Breitbart is that the city's personnel department, which purchases job ads through Google, wasn't sufficiently rigorous about its ad filters. Businesses and organizations that buy ads through Google can suggest keywords and phrases that might appear on sites visited by the audience they want to target; they can also list sites on which they absolutely do not want their ads to appear.
"It might just be that Breitbart had some keywords on their homepage that matched what the LAPD has requested their ad to appear in," Bert Huang, an assistant professor of computer science at Virginia Tech, told the New York Times. "In that scenario, through no direct intent from the LAPD, it could have been inevitably matched."
City officials have been falling over themselves to emphasize that this was an accident and that it won't happen again. "We have suspended all Google ad placements while we review and make sure that they are going to the places we want them to go to," personnel department spokesman Bruce Whidden told the Los Angeles Times. "We had no intention of having an ad placed on that site."
It is doubtless true that the city did not intend to run an ad on a site that for years has flirted with the white nationalist far-right even as it shrouds itself in the more acceptable rhetoric of law and order. While the site stopped featuring a “Black Crime” vertical, activists pushing back against police violence, like those in the Movement for Black Lives, are treated as recurring villains who spread anarchy and chaos wherever they go. As a spokeswoman for the site, Elizabeth Moore, said, Breitbart is "one of the most pro-police, pro-law-enforcement news organizations in America."
The outrage that the LAPD, Chief Moore, and the city of Los Angeles expressed at having been associated with a publication like Breitbart is hypocritical on its face. The department's superficial commitment to "diversity" does not resolve the structural inequities that enable cops to carry out extrajudicial killings with impunity. Moore's instinctive response that the ad running on Breitbart is intended to "discredit" the department is revealing, even if his account of what's going on is distorted; the incident does discredit the department, in so far as it points to the seams in the story being woven about urban policing in the 21st century. In other words, it is an accidental reminder of what the police really are—no matter how committed to "diversity" they may claim to be.