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New Report Details Nearly a Quarter Century of Police Shootings

An officer stands at the scene where a man was shot in the Midway District, A...

Credit: 10News

Above: An officer stands at the scene where a man was shot in the Midway District, April 30, 2015.

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The report details county shootings by police between 1993 and 2017, which average out to around 18 such shootings per year.

Aired: August 19, 2019 | Transcript

Almost 65% of San Diego police shootings happened less than five minutes after officers arrived on the scene, according to a new analysis of the 450 police shootings in San Diego County between 1993 and 2017.

San Diego District Attorney Summer Stephan, whose office wrote the report, acknowledged that this number shows there is need for more officer training, especially on how to work with people on drugs or with mental health issues.

Reported by Claire Trageser

"We can really focus on those first few minutes and look at what the officer could have as information that would help them deal with the situation that involves a crisis of mental health or substance abuse better and in a less lethal manner" Stephan said.

About 65% of people shot by police were either on drugs or had documented mental health problems, according to the report.

Stephan said her office will begin rolling out an 8-hour training for police departments next month.

The report also found that 40% of the shootings involved a white officer and a non-white suspect.

However, the report did not clearly show the racial disparities when it comes to police shootings. Black people make up 5% of San Diego county's population, but 19% of people shot by police in the county between 1993 and 2017 were black.

Stephan, in an interview with KPBS, acknowledged that the report did not make this point.

"But what's really interesting about having the data speak for itself is you see that non-white officers and white officers shot at a higher rate non-white people," she said. "So it's hard to know what that statistic means and how it might relate to other information out there."

Twenty-nine percent of the shootings involved a white officer and white suspect, while 10% involved a non-white officer and non-white suspect.

Community advocates were glad that the DA produced the report, but said they want to see some actual change come from it.

"Police have to learn how to de-escalate and take their time when they're called to a scene," said Bishop Cornelius Bowser, a San Diego activist.

Darwin Fishman, a professor at San Diego State, said he hopes the report leads to action.

"Most all the changes the District Attorney and the police, unfortunately we've had to drag them kicking, and I think that they'll probably be happy with just releasing this and if we want any substantial changes with practices, that we'll really have to push harder," he said.

The report did not track what percentage of the shootings were found as justified by the District Attorney. Stephan said she did not know the percentage, but acknowledged that the vast majority were found as justified.

"We take the analysis very seriously and bring the most expert team and objective team to it," she said. She added that the U.S. Attorney's Office and California Attorney General can review the findings of each case.

Other notable statistics mentioned in the report include:

— 92 percent of the subjects shot had a weapon. Of 36 incidents in which the suspect was unarmed, 28 of the subjects "made furtive movements," while 6 were shot as a result of accidental discharges by the officer. The other 2 incidents involved "a violent gang member running at another officer" and "a prison inmate involved in a violent assault on another inmate."

— 79 percent of the subjects were under the influence of drugs or alcohol and/or had mental health issues.

— A "less-than-lethal" method of subduing the subject was used in 22% of the shootings. These methods include using a chemical spray, beanbag gun, baton, taser or K-9.

— The San Diego Police Department — which serves about 42% of the county's population — was involved in just over half of all shootings. The San Diego County Sheriff's Department and El Cajon Police Department had the second and third highest totals, respectively.

— In almost two-thirds of the incidents, only one officer fired his or her weapon.

— More than one-third of the shootings happened following a vehicle or foot pursuit.

Listen to this story by Claire Trageser.

City News Service contributed to this story.

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Photo of Claire Trageser

Claire Trageser
Investigative Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksAs a member of the KPBS investigative team, my job is to hold the powerful in San Diego County accountable. I've done in-depth investigations on political campaigns, police officer misconduct and neighborhood quality of life issues.

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