In 2017, law enforcement officers in California used force against civilians in a manner that resulted in serious bodily injury or death, or the discharge of a gun in 707 separate incidents, according to the state Department of Justice’s second ever police use-of-force report released this week.
The public data report is part of the CA Dept. of Justice’s transparency initiative, OpenJustice. In 2015, then-Attorney General Kamala Harris launched the OpenJustice data portal website to bring transparency to the state’s justice system by publishing crime and policing statistics. The following year, Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill that made the site a one-stop-shop for the electronic collection and public reporting of data on crime and officers uses-of-force, as well as data on incidents in which civilians shoot cops.
According to the latest report, police discharged their firearms in a total of 353 of the 707 reported use of force incidents last year.
There were 75 fewer incidents in 2017 than in 2016, although the number of use of force incidents that involved gunfire increased by 25.
More than half—51.8 percent—of the individuals on whom officers used force were not armed. Officers perceived civilians to be armed in 61.3 percent of the incidents.
Approximately 53.5 percent of involved civilians showed signs of mental illness, according to the report.
The report also breaks down demographic information about the serious uses of force.
Approximately 43.9 percent of civilians were Latino, 30.2 percent were white, 19.3 percent were black, and Native Americans, Asians, and Indians, made up approximately 3 percent of involved civilians.
A total of 55.7 percent of involved officers were white, 32.4 percent were Latino, 3.6 percent were black, 5.3 percent were Asian, and Native Americans and Indians made up less than one percent.
The interactive data is crucial in an era of heightened scrutiny of officer-involved shootings and other uses of force in California and across the nation.
One bill currently maneuvering through state legislature, Assembly Bill 931, was introduced in response to public outrage over the death of Stephon Clark, who was fatally shot on March 18 by Sacramento police officers who believed the cell phone he was holding was a gun.
The “Police Accountability and Community Protection Act,” introduced by Assemblymembers Shirley Weber (D-San Diego) and Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento), would change the circumstances under which officers can use deadly force.
Current law says that officers can use deadly force when “objectively reasonable”—when another officer with similar training and experience would have behaved similarly under the same circumstances.
AB 931 would permit officers to use deadly force only to prevent imminent bodily harm or death, and when there are no reasonable alternatives to de-escalate the situation through verbal warnings, persuasion, or other non-lethal efforts. Under the bill, prosecutors would also be able to look at an officer’s actions leading up to a deadly use of force, and whether those actions were “grossly negligent” and put the officer unnecessarily in danger.
The bill would require officers “to attempt to control an incident by using time, distance, communications, and available resources in an effort to deescalate a situation whenever it is safe and reasonable to do so.”
Most recently, the Senate Public Safety Committee pushed AB 931 through with a 5-2 vote. The bill now heads to the Senate Appropriations Committee for a vote.
A second bill focused on transparency regarding uses of force, SB 1421, aims to open up law enforcement personnel records to the public when officers are found by their departments to have committed misconduct and when they use force—specifically, when they discharge their firearms or Tasers, use a weapon to strike a person’s head or neck, or use force that results in serious bodily harm or death.