The rash of shooting violence this week—from Baton Rouge to St. Paul to Dallas—has the nation talking about the relationship between police officers and the communities they patrol. And the role of race in that relationship.
This week we saw two black men killed by white police officers. Then we saw five police officers killed by a black man, whom authorities say had vowed to kill white cops.
Southern California is no stranger to violence between police and civilians.
Data from the California Department of Justice shows 33 officers died on duty in the six counties that make up Southern California from 2005 to 2014. Twenty-five were accidental deaths and eight came "as a direct result of a criminal act by a subject," according to the DOJ.
Conversely, many people in Los Angeles County have died or been hurt in officer-involved shootings. How many is a tough question to track down.
KPCC set out to answer that question in a months-long investigation into officer-involved shootings in Los Angeles County.
We went in with a seemingly straightforward question: how many people in Los Angeles County are shot by police and under what circumstances?
Law enforcement agencies are not required to report data on the number of police shootings, nor the circumstances surrounding shootings. Many release very little information at all, while others like the Los Angeles Police Department and Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department opt for more transparency.
As there are dozens of police agencies in Los Angeles County, KPCC went to the one place that reviews every single police shooting in the county: the L.A. District Attorney's Office, which must decide whether or not to file criminal charges against officers in each instance.
We found that between January 1, 2010, and December 31, 2014:
- At least 375 people were hurt or killed by on-duty police officers who had fired their guns;
- One in four people shot by police was unarmed;
- 24 percent of people shot were black; 48 percent were Latino;
- 57 of the people who were shot also shot at police;
- No officers who shot a person while on-duty were charged with a crime for that shooting;
- The vast majority of police officers never shot anyone.
There have been a number of developments since our investigation.
For the first time in his career, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck recommended criminal charges against an officer for shooting a suspect. The suspect, Brendon Glenn, was homeless in Venice and was apparently drunk and bothering patrons outside a local bar.
The two officers called in initially sent Glenn on his way, but returned to arrest him when they said Glenn turned back towards the bar and fought with the bouncer.
In a struggle to arrest Glenn, Officer Clifford Proctor shot Glenn twice in the back, at a range of one and a half feet, killing him.
Proctor told investigators Glenn reached for his partner's gun, but Beck, in a report on the incident, said there was no evidence Glenn did so. He cited video footage of the incident in his decision to recommend charges.
District Attorney Jackie Lacey's office said she has not yet reached a conclusion on whether or not to press charges.
Since we released our findings, the LAPD also made another new move: the Los Angeles Police Commission, which oversees the department, initiated a process to revise its use-of-force policy.
Under the agreed-upon changes, the policy will be rewritten to emphasize de-escalating potentially violent situations
Beck also announced the creation of a new department honor rewarding "preservation of life" to be given to officers who refrain from using deadly force.
The L.A. City Council last month also voted to equip all LAPD officers with body-worn cameras.
On the local and statewide level, there have also been developments and setbacks in the push for more transparency on police shootings.
Starting in 2016, police agencies in California must report some information on officer-involved shootings to the state Department of Justice.
In the state legislature, a senate bill that would have opened up information on officer discipline to the public died for lack of support.
And as KPCC reported Thursday, despite a push for greater transparency at the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, Sheriff Jim McDonnell said the department will no longer release information about whether deputy-involved shootings are deemed in or out of department policy.
The reason: the union that represents the rank and file objected, citing officer privacy laws put in place to protect peace officers from possible retaliation.
McDonnell told KPCC he walks that line between transparency and protecting his deputies very carefully.
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck clearly had that balance on his mind Friday morning when he took to a podium at LAPD headquarters to address freshly graduating cadets about the most recent tragedy to grab the nation's attention.
"Now I am not making excuses for when we fail, through either malignant heart or failed training. Sometimes we fail. But that is not, that is absolutely not, the vast majority of our interactions," Beck said.
Beck told the graduates they were entering the law enforcement profession at a very difficult crossroads, but he urged them not to take this opportunity to retreat or to pit one side of what should be a national dialogue against the other.
"This is not about black lives, it's not about brown lives, it's not about blue lives, this is about America. This is a country based on a promise that does not recognize a difference in the shades of humanity," Beck told the new police officers, who will soon hit the streets with a gun and a badge. "You are the symbol of that promise."