The outcry following the killing of George Floyd by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin has put a spotlight on the tactics of law enforcement agencies across the country. In Los Angeles as in other cities, there have been vociferous demands to reduce police use force, particularly against unarmed Black people.
That demand raises a question: How often do Los Angeles Police Department personnel use force, lethal and not? The topic has particular resonance as council members and Mayor Eric Garcetti are currently debating the city budget amidst cries to decrease police spending.
There are various tabulations of police use of force, including an annual report on the subject compiled by the LAPD itself. The 2019 Use of Force Year-End Review runs nearly 400 pages and contains a litany of information and statistics on everything from people killed by police gunfire to K-9 unit deployment to the challenge officers face in responding to homelessness.
Some may question the veracity of the findings, given the source. Leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement have asserted that 601 civilians have died at the hands of local law enforcement agencies since 2012. The tally appears far higher than findings from the LAPD.
That also differs from figures detailed in the Los Angeles Times’ Homicide Report. A database published Tuesday found that, from 2013 through the present day, county medical examiners have counted 335 killings of individuals by local law enforcement agencies. Since 2000, according to the Times, 885 people in L.A. County died at the hands of police, with nearly 80 percent of them being Black or Latino.
In the LAPD review, Chief Michel Moore touts advances in policing practices, but also cites troubling trends; he references a decline in Officer-Involved Shootings (OIS) in the department last year, but notes a 6 percent rise in the number of rounds fired. In comments made well before police engaged in violent confrontations with protesters on the streets of L.A., he acknowledged the negative impact that a forceful response can invoke.
“A police officer who uses force upon an individual has the potential to tear at the fabric of public trust we work so hard to maintain,” he states at the top of the report.
According to the review, the number of OIS incidents, and the number of people who died in those encounters, has been steadily falling since 2015, though figures from the department still outpace some other large U.S. law enforcement agencies. The report also found that other uses of force by LAPD officers have been rising.
Among the findings:
- The LAPD recorded 26 OIS incidents in 2019, a decrease from 33 the previous year and 48 in 2015. The high in the past three decades was the 115 Officer-Involved Shootings in 1990.
- Of those 26 OIS incidents, 12 resulted in the death of a suspect; eight people who died were classified in the report as Hispanic, two were black, one was white and one was not identified. Overall, 15 of the 26 people in OIS incidents last year were Hispanic and eight were black.
- The LAPD classified six people involved in OIS incidents as homeless, up from four the previous year. In a four-year span from 2016-2019, homeless individuals were involved in 15 of 149 total department OIS encounters.
- The 26 officer-involved shootings in 2019 were tied for the highest count among six law enforcement agencies detailed in the report, with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department involved in another 26 encounters. The New York Police Department, with nearly 39,000 sworn officers (compared to the approximately 10,100 in the LAPD), recorded 25 OIS incidents last year; 11 people died. Meanwhile, according to the review, there were 17 OIS encounters in the Chicago Police Department last year and nine in Philadelphia’s police force; five suspects died in Chicago, and there were no deaths in Philadelphia, according to the review.
- From 2015-2019, a total of 84 people were killed in OIS incidents involving the LAPD. During that five-year timeframe, 56 people died in OIS encounters involving the L.A. Sheriff’s Department. The Philadelphia Police Department registered a total of 13 deceased individuals in that period, according to the review.
- Another three people died while in LAPD custody in 2019, down from seven the previous year. From 2015 to 2019, a total of 23 people died while in custody. No information on cause of death for the 2019 incidents was available in the report. In 2018, two deaths were the result of suicide, two were reported as homicides, one was declared an accident, and the other two were undetermined.
The department characterizes use of force in two ways: “categorical,” which involves deadly force such as a shooting or a head strike with a weapon; and “non-categorical,” which the review defines as when a department employee “uses a less-lethal control device or physical force to compel a person to comply with the employee’s direction, overcome resistance of a person during an arrest or a detention, or defend any individual from an aggressive action by another person resulting in an injury or a complaint of injury.”
The latter category covers a range of actions, everything from what the review terms “firm grip/joint lock,” to using Tasers and employing weapons seen in the recent clashes between police and protesters, such as batons and the firing of green, 40mm “less-lethal” launchers. According to the review, in 2019 there were 2,320 non-categorical use of force (NCUOF) incidents, up nine percent from the 2018 figure of 2,125. In 2015 the department recorded 1,825 NCUOF incidents.
In most encounters multiple types of “non-categorical” force were employed, with “body weight” involved nearly 1,800 times last year and the “firm grip/joint lock” utilized in more than 2,100 instances. On 871 occasions LAPD employees engaged in a “takedown/leg sweep.” Batons or other impact devices were wielded on 33 occasions, and the 40mm “less-lethal” launcher was fired in 62 incidents.
Data components from the NCUOF instances include:
- Tasers were employed in 282 instances, though the LAPD deemed them “effective” only 53 percent of the time. Taser use has dropped precipitously recently; in 2017 the devices were used 580 times.
- Beanbag shotguns and 40mm launchers had a similar “effective” rate, with the former declared effective 52 percent of the time they were employed, and the latter registering as effective 53 percent of the time.
- According to the LAPD review, 8,801 department employees were involved in NCUOF encounters, for an average of 3.8 officers per incident. During these encounters 864 were injured; severity and specifics of the injuries were not revealed.
- Individuals classified as Hispanic were involved in 1,062 NCUOF incidents, or 42 percent of the total; the LAPD data classifies the city as 49% Hispanic. Black suspects were involved in 868 NCUOF incidents, accounting for 36 percent of the interactions, despite making up just 9 percent of the city’s population. There were 379 incidents, or 16 percent of the total, involving white suspects; the city’s population is 28 percent white, according to the review.
- More than one-third of the NCUOF incidents involved homeless individuals, according to the review. The 812 encounters with homeless individuals last year was up from 428 in 2015.
The 2019 review includes many other elements, from pages describing de-escalation training for LAPD officers, to a synopsis of officer-involved shootings. The latter incorporates officer-worn body-camera footage from dozens of OIS incidents.
Although making body-camera footage available and publishing the annual use of force review are cornerstones of the LAPD’s efforts to increase transparency, the department’s stances and actions continue to be strongly questioned by some observers. The California Police Scorecard, a website that uses a range of data streams including police shootings, injuries to civilians, and other criteria, gives the LAPD an “F” grade, with a total 38 percent rating. The Scorecard (put together by Campaign Zero, which aims to eliminate police killings) ranked the LAPD 89th out of 100 California police departments.
The San Francisco Police Department was judged nearly as harshly, with a 42 percent score. Only three departments in the state—Tracy, San Mateo and Carlsbad—received grades higher than 80. The Scorecard gave an F to 70 departments.
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