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Officer Involved San Bernardino: drugs, alcohol and suspects in cars

Today, Southern California Public Radio and The San Bernardino Sun launch the first substantive examination of police shootings in the nation’s most expansive county. Officer Involved San Bernardino is a continuation of work the station began two years ago to correct an important problem: the lack of public information around officer shootings.

Through a public records request to the San Bernardino District Attorney, which investigates every police shooting, KPCC and The Sun gathered official accounts of six years of incidents in San Bernardino County and built a database. We supplemented that data with coroner reports and other documents. Those are the same kinds of records that KPCC relied on to build the first-of-its kind database of police shootings in Los Angeles County in 2015.

We started this work to answer the questions many have been asking around the country: what reasons did police give for using deadly force? what lead up to the shootings? how often were the people shot mentally ill? how often were people unarmed? what about race?

We sought to provide facts and context to a divisive conversation.

There was little we could compare to the statistics we uncovered in Los Angeles because law enforcement agencies have not been required to release information on police shootings - though that's changing in California. Looking at San Bernardino County expanded our work and offered an important comparison.

When we analyzed the data, we found similarities between the two counties in significant ways: a quarter of people shot were unarmed and black people were shot at higher rates in both counties.

Two trends stood out in San Bernardino County:

*The vast majority of people shot by officers in San Bernardino County appear to have used drugs or alcohol, according to the district attorney and coroner reports - twice the rate as in neighboring Los Angeles. And officers in both counties were more likely to mistake substance users as armed when their hands went missing or dropped toward their waist.

*Law enforcement agencies in San Bernardino County shot unarmed suspects in moving cars at nearly double the rate of Los Angeles, despite a national trend of agencies moving away from that tactic.

You can hear he stories Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday this week on Morning Edition, Take Two and All Things Considered. And we'll bring you into the conversation on AirTalk.

We hope you will listen and read the stories and if you think the work is important, please share on your social networks. We also hope that you’ll join us at a public event June 14 in San Bernardino where we’ll unpack the reporting and talk about effective policing in these changing times.

This work would not be possible without the generous support of our listeners.