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Officer Involved: Drug use rates don't explain why officers shoot more users in San Bernardino

by Take Two®

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Evidence cones in Penny Trent’s living room following a June 2012 deputy shooting. Evidence reports show they found two bottles of opioids on the couch that had been prescribed for Trent. Jerry Steering

More than 70 percent of people shot by police officers in San Bernardino County in a six-year period showed signs of substance use, according to a new investigation by KPCC.

That's more than double the rate of similar incidents in LA County, which is perplexing when it comes to the frequency of drug and alcohol abuse.

"The measure public health experts use is drug overdose deaths and emergency room visits," says Beatriz Valenzuela with the San Bernardino Sun. "But we found those rates were similar in both counties. It didn’t explain why San Bernardino had nearly double the rate of these shootings of drug and alcohol users when compared with Los Angeles County."

Part of disparity could be explained by the difference in wealth between the two areas.

"People use drugs in all types of neighborhoods," says KPCC's Annie Gilbertson, "but, not all communities are policed in the same way."

Police shootings tend to cluster around low-income neighborhoods, not affluent ones.

Valenzuela and Gilbertson also looked at how officers viewed drug and alcohol users amidst incidents.

"In the data, we saw that officers misperceive drug users as armed more often when they reached for their waistband, or their hands disappear," says Gilbertson. "Experts do say that drug use can make people seem unpredictable and that can heighten a sense of danger from officers."

Listen to the full interview with Gilbertson and Valenzuela at 9:35 a.m. on KPCC.

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