Although Santa Clarita Valley station didn’t figure significantly in the report, sheriff’s watchdog Merrick Bobb has some serious concerns about the department’s training and “perception” in its recently-released report.
Training and record keeping emerged as the focal points of the report, with increased frequency for situation training and better data maintenance the analyst’s two major recommendations.
The 30th Semiannual Report of Special Counsel, dealing specifically with deputy-involved shootings, was issued Wednesday. Over the 15 years that Merrick Bobb has been evaluating the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, 178 people have been shot and killed by department personnel, and 204 have been wounded.
The issue of unarmed suspects and “state of mind” or “perception” shootings perceive, accurately or not, whether a suspect is armed or going for a gun, has come to the forefront.
Also called “waistband shootings,” these shootings are often justified because the deputy saw the suspect reaching for their waistband and feared that the suspect was armed or saw an unknown object they feared was a weapon.
Over the last six years, one-fifth of all suspects hit were unarmed. In 2010, that segment rose to one-third, rising more than 50 percent over the last year.
A review of the suspects in ‘waistband shooting’ cases reveals that of the 30 suspects shot at after reportedly reaching for their waistband, only two were white; in comparison, 16 were Latino and 12 were black.
Although only four suspects were killed in a waistband shooting (three of them unarmed), 11 others were hit and wounded. It is troubling that all but two of these suspects were people of color, and even more so that about a third were initially approached due primarily to suspicious behavior, rather than knowledge of a serious crime.
Waistband shootings have long been the subject of controversy. Most recently, in December 2010, the NAACP held a public rally to demand that police agencies take action to stop such incidents, particularly of black men
Experience at the LASD over the past six years demonstrates that in nearly two-thirds of cases where the deputy acted on a waistband movement without seeing a weapon, the suspect had no weapon and thus must have been doing something other than arming himself. Whether the subject is actually trying to reach for something or just pulling up his pants is often not clear. According to LASD personnel and a review of the files, suspects often say they were trying to keep their pants up while running, or that they were trying to ensure that identifying effects such as their cell phone or wallet did not fall out of their pocket.
The report contained concerns about Century Station, which was involved in one-fifth of the department’s cumulative shootings.
“Century deputies patrol a high-density area that has some of the highest crime rates, particularly violent crime,” the report noted. Research also revealed that more than half of the Century Station shootings involved deputies with multiple shootings in their past.
Officers involved in shootings at that station also had somewhat sporadic refresher training.
Regarding training, the department currently requires deputies to go through eight hours of tactics and survival training every two years; four hours of classroom instruction and four hours of simulated scenarios using paintball ammunition.
The importance of training frequently was underscored by the high number of training-lapsed deputies involved in hit and non-hit situations. Only 38 percent of deputies involved in shootings had gone through training within the last year.
“Instruction plays a key role in effective risk management by teaching deputies not only when and how to shoot, but also when and how to hold their fire.”
More than half of shootings by off-duty deputies involved personnel that had been on the job less than three years, prompting the strong recommendation that tactical firearms training be provided on an annual basis, instead of the current department guideline of once every two years.
Firearms discharges are at their highest since tracking began in 1996; in 2008, there were 93 incidents, in 2010, there were 119. The growth seems to stem from the number of animals shot (almost always dogs), which have more than doubled since 2004.
In tables that break down incidents of hit and non-hit shootings, Santa Clarita Valley Station does not even register.
The report also included the information that only four percent of deputies involved in shootings were women, making it much less likely that a female deputy would fire a weapon than their male counterparts.
Record keeping was also a failure discovered by Merrick Bobb.
“We have serious problems with LASD’s record keeping. It was with great dismay that we discovered that much of the data collected by the department with regard to shootings is missing, inaccurate, lost or lacking in basic internal integrity,” the report stated. “We also encountered needless compartmentalization of information, confusion about tracking systems and data entry and an apparent failure on the part of LASD management to audit its own data collection systems or to analyze the data contained therein.”