Data Tracker

The facts about police shootings in California: Black, white and Latino

By Phillip Reese - preese@sacbee.com

Brianna Cormier, 18, helped organize a protest Monday in Sacramento as part of a broader movement to force a national conversation on police shootings of black men.
Brianna Cormier, 18, helped organize a protest Monday in Sacramento as part of a broader movement to force a national conversation on police shootings of black men. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

California police shot and killed about 1,130 people during the last decade, including 130 people killed in 2015, according to a Sacramento Bee review of California Department of Justice data.

In California, police officers killed someone, on average, about once every three days during the last decade. About four police officers, on average, were killed in homicides on the job each year over the same period.

The most common justifications given for officers killing criminal suspects last year were that the suspects were threatening a police officer or were in the act of committing a crime. California police used a firearm in all of the homicides deemed justifiable last year.

About 43 percent of those killed by California police were Latino; 30 percent were white; 20 percent were black; and 7 percent were some other race. However, blacks were killed at a disproportionate rate. Police shot and killed blacks at almost five times the rate of whites and three times the rate of Latinos.

As the nation engages in an impassioned dialogue over police shootings, a central issue has been whether police are unjustly targeting blacks for excessive and deadly force. Activists say the data showing blacks are shot by police at a higher rate than other races is evidence of that bias. But others note that the numbers also show that blacks are more likely to come into contact with law enforcement for alleged criminal behavior. During the last decade in California, blacks were arrested for violent felonies at more than five times the arrest rate for whites and three times the arrest rate for Latinos.

The relationship between violent crime rates and police shootings is murky, however. A 2015 study by UC Davis researcher Cody Ross looked at roughly 2,000 police shootings across the nation between 2011 and 2014. The study found that racial disparities in police shootings "is not explainable as a response to local-level crime rates," including crime rates by race. It also found that unarmed blacks were more likely to be shot by police than unarmed whites.

A new study from Harvard professor Roland Fryer adds fodder to the discussion. It found that bias does not play a role in officer-involved shootings, but does play a role in other, non-fatal types of use of force by police.

The Department of Justice data are published annually and based on reports of justifiable homicides from police agencies across the state. The ruling on whether the shooting is justified is made by local law enforcement agencies. The vast majority of officer-involved shootings over the last decade were ruled justified.

Sources: Officer-involved shooting data - California Department of Justice, Homicide in California | Population data for rates - California Department of Finance | Violent crime data - California Department of Justice, Crime in California

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