Shootings by sheriff's deputies have jumped to historic levels in Sacramento County the first half of this year. As The Bee's Kim Minugh reported on Friday, there have been 10 shooting episodes so far in 2012, involving 18 officers.
Six suspects were killed and three others injured.
In-house investigations and a review by the Sheriff's Department's appointed inspector general concluded that all of the shootings appear to be justified. But those assessments are not independent. To protect their own credibility, Sheriff Scott Jones, his inspector general and even the sheriff's deputies union leader have all said they want independent reviews. Given that and the sharp increase in shootings, District Attorney Jan Scully needs to reconsider her decision to stop investigating police shootings. Officers who shoot people in the line of duty need to know their actions will be scrutinized, and so does the public.
Beyond deputy-involved shootings, there are other worrisome trends on the local law enforcement front that need to be better understood and urgently addressed. Those trends may help determine if the increase in deputy shootings is a statistical anomaly or an indication of something more ominous.
For example, while officer shootings have not gone up in the city of Sacramento, Police Chief Rick Braziel reports an alarming uptick in gun crimes. Through the end of May the city of Sacramento reported 282 assaults involving guns. That's up 55 percent from the same period last year.
Also through the end of last month, there have been 156 armed robberies in the city, up 13 percent from the same period last year. Braziel has met with the sheriff and is planning meetings with all the other police chiefs in the county to compare notes and plot a collective strategy to combat gun violence.
Braziel also reports that his officers have seen many more young thugs willing to engage in fistfights with them a trend he attributes to the growing popularity of caged martial arts on TV. In response, the Police Department has actually designed an advanced arrest course, essentially a class to teach officers street-fighting techniques that better equip them to make arrests without having to resort to lethal force. The sheriff may want to explore whether such training could benefit deputies.
Meanwhile in Citrus Heights, Police Chief Christopher Boyd worries that prison realignment has led to a shift of state parolees to county probation, resulting in shorter, less intense supervision and thus, less protection for the public.
In response to the challenges of prison realignment, the Citrus Heights City Council plans to vote next Thursday on whether to place a measure on the November ballot to raise the city's utility tax, with proceeds to be used to pay for more police, gang prevention and after-school activities.
Cuts at every level of government have resulted in a dangerously frayed safety net, fewer services for the poor and mentally ill, a shorter school year, fewer activities for at-risk youngsters and more desperate people. As a result, law enforcement leaders worry that a long period of lower crime rates may be coming to an end.
The recent raft of deputy-involved shootings may be a symptom of all of that. A thorough, independent review of the shootings could shed some much-needed light on the issue.