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Officer Involved: KPCC's investigation into police shootings in LA County

Today on KPCC and we’re launching a series called “Officer Involved” that offers answers to some fundamental questions surrounding the use of lethal force in Los Angeles County:

How often do police here shoot civilians, and in what circumstances? How often are unarmed people shot? Is race a factor? What other patterns might there be?

KPCC wanted to report these facts as we covered a series of officer-involved shootings here and elsewhere, along with the resulting protests and dramatic rhetoric from all sides. These high-profile cases begged for context — were they aberrations or part of a pattern? — yet law enforcement agencies aren’t required to report such numbers or to look for trends.

Lacking official numbers, KPCC journalists decided to compile them independently. Our team obtained summaries from the L.A. district attorney, which investigates every use of lethal force by the county’s 45 law enforcement agencies, and added material from other public records, interviews and other research.

The findings offer the first countywide look at patterns among 375 civilians shot by police officers from 2010-14, offering a starting point for conversation.

For instance, we found that unarmed people make up 25 percent of those shot by law enforcement officers across the county, and that mental health issues factor into a significant number of shootings.

This kind of original reporting is essential at the local and regional level, and thanks to the support of contributors in our community, KPCC has been able to expand and deepen its journalism significantly in recent years.

Yet we want to do more than simply report findings. We aim to create civic connection around public safety issues that involve all of us: How effective are our police? How does lethal force play into public safety, avoiding undue risk for either officers or civilians?

Over the next two weeks on KPCC’s airwaves and digital channels, you’ll hear many different voices addressing these issues: police officers as well as families of people who were shot, law enforcement experts and shooting survivors. Along with reported stories, we’ll offer interviews and discussions on our daily Take Two and AirTalk programs, and NPR will air some material nationally.

We hope you’ll listen, read and explore our database. Participate in the discussion through social media tweets, via our Facebook page or the AirTalk page, or join us at a live event Nov. 30. Explore the data at Join the conversation with the hashtag #OfficerInvolved.