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Public Safety

Report Released On San Diego County Officer-Involved Shootings

This graph shows fatal and non-fatal officer-involved shooting incidents by year in San Diego County. There was a high of 28 shootings in 1993 and a low of 10 in 1996.
Brooke Ruth / KPBS
This graph shows fatal and non-fatal officer-involved shooting incidents by year in San Diego County. There was a high of 28 shootings in 1993 and a low of 10 in 1996.

Study by District Attorney's Office has wealth of information, little analysis

Suspects shot by San Diego County law enforcement officers over a 20-year period were mostly young, white males who suffered from mental illness, were under the influence of drugs or both, a county report released Thursday shows.

Officer-Involved Shooting Review
A report from the San Diego County District Attorney's Office analyzing officer involved shootings between 1993 and 2012.
To view PDF files, download Acrobat Reader.

The study from the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office found 367 suspects were shot by law enforcement officers in the county from 1993 to 2012. Of those shot, 195 died from their injuries. The San Diego Police Department had the most officer-involved shootings with 194 incidents.

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The report breaks down publicly available data into categories, such as the timing of the shootings or the age and race of suspects, but it doesn’t identify any trends or highlight areas of concern.

District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis said the report was one of the most comprehensive in the county's history and took nearly a year to produce.

"We did this together to better understand the dynamics of officer-involved shootings. We hope law enforcement can use the results to shape safer safety practices, training and education,” Dumanis said at a news conference with city police chiefs standing behind her. "We also believe it may give the public a better insight into some of the factors that may contribute to many of these events."

Suspects Under The Influence

Meth: 116

Alcohol: 98

Marijuana: 41

Prescription drugs: 25

Cocaine: 24

Opiates: 17

PCP: 8

Other/Unknown: 18

According to the report, 123 suspects had a documented mental health illness, were “exhibiting unstable behavior” or both.

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"One-third of the subjects had both mental health issues and under the influence of one or more drugs,” the study said.

The most common substance was meth, followed by alcohol and then marijuana.

The report identified at least 67 incidents, or 19 percent, as suicide-by-cop, "meaning it appeared the subject wanted police to shoot him or her."

In 80 percent of the shootings, officers did not try to use lesser methods of force, such as a Taser or police dog, and 45 percent occurred less than one minute after the officer arrived at the scene.

"So we are really talking about split-second decisions," Dumanis said, noting nearly two-thirds of incidents happened within three minutes of an officer's arrival. "They don't even have time sometimes to call it in for help before they are on the scene acting."

San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman highlighted the importance of this finding.

"This is why having less lethal force options available in a timely matter is vital in assisting to resolve rapidly evolving incidents," Zimmerman said.

Dumanis said there's been an increase of non-lethal weapons in recent years. "But there isn't always time for an officer to make that decision," the district attorney said.

One additional surprising detail the report found was the type of call that resulted in a shooting:

Family/domestic disturbance calls have long been among the most dangerous to law enforcement. Similarly, these calls are also one of the most frequent incident types that officers responded to just prior to an officer-involved shooting. However, the most common event preceding an OIS is traffic-related. Traffic-related includes traffic stops and other vehicle-related calls like drunk driving.

Most suspects had a firearm at the time of the shooting, and 29 suspects were unarmed. Almost half of the suspects were on parole or probation at the time of the incident, and more than a third of the cases involved a foot or vehicle pursuit prior to the shooting.

Suspects That Had Weapons At Time Of Shooting

Firearm: 151

Knife: 66

Vehicle: 41

BB/Toy gun: 18

Reached for officer weapon: 15

Blunt object: 13

Sharp force: 13

Other: 10

Hand/fist: 6

Simulated handgun: 5

None: 29

Additionally, the report shows at least 41 percent of the cases involved a white officer firing on a non-white suspect. In total, 37 percent of suspects were white, 36 percent were Hispanic, 19 percent were black, 14 percent were Asian/Filipino, 1 percent were Pacific Islander and 4 percent were other/unknown.

On average, firing officers were 35 years old and had 10 years of experience. A majority arrived to the incident by responding to a radio call, which puts patrol officers "most at-risk for becoming involved in a shooting," the report said.

The report also breaks down the location and time of the lethal force encounters.

Most occurred outdoors in an alley or the street and after 6 p.m. More than a third of the shootings happened on a Friday or Saturday.

Dumanis said her office doesn't have formal plans to apply the findings to updating practices or policies but added that it helps inform regular meetings she has with other law enforcement officials.

"We don't have something planned, but we meet as chiefs and the sheriff from all of law enforcement — state, federal and local — on a monthly basis, and we are always talking about training issues and how better to do the job that we are doing, so this will add to it."

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