More than a third of the people who were shot last year by Los Angeles cops were mentally ill, according to a new study in which the city’s police department examined its own record on the use of force over the past four years.
The LAPD initiated the study in response to mounting public pressure on police departments across the country to rethink how they interact with communities, and reexamine use of force policies.
The 300-page report was released on Tuesday, and Police Chief Charlie Beck immediately presented the department’s findings to LA’s civilian police commission. The commission meeting coincided with the one year anniversary of the fatal LAPD shooting of Charlie “Africa” Keunang, a mentally ill man gunned down by a rookie cop on LA’s Skid Row. As the report was delivered, anti-police brutality activists in the room began to chant “Can’t kill Africa!”
The LAPD claims that the numbers are forcing it to reconsider some of its own procedures. The department is relying more on tasers and bean-bag guns, and will retrain its officers on use of force best practices. But the LAPD’s own report showed that nearly a quarter of the 1,900 non-firearm uses of force — including the use of a Taser or bean-bag shotgun — last year involved a suspect that officers thought to be mentally ill.
Beck promised on Tuesday that 1,100 LAPD officers will be trained over the next year in how to more effectively approach people who are mentally ill.
The LAPD’s report also provides details on the department’s overall record on shootings going back to 2011. In 2015, the police shot 48 people — up 60 percent from the previous year. Of those 48 shootings, 21 suspects were killed. Overall, between 2011 and 2015, LAPD officers fired their weapons at 223 people, killing 97.
“At the end of the day, the instances in which we use force… is extremely rare,” Assistant Chief Michel Moore told the Los Angeles Times. “But at the same time, each incident is one too many if it can be avoided.”
The mental illness statistics were some of the most dramatic included in the report. Of the 38 people the LAPD shot in 2015, 14 — or 37 percent — showed some signs of mental illness. That’s up from just 19 percent the previous year.
Brittney Weissman, executive director with the National Alliance on Mental Illness, told the Times that the report “raises a lot of questions for us,” and urged the police department to seriously invest in training that would educate officers about how to deal with mentally ill suspects.
A racial breakdown of shootings and police interactions revealed significant racial disparities in policing practices. Twenty-two of the 38 people hit by police gunfire last year were Hispanic, the largest number of any racial group. Eight were African-American, five white and two Asian or Pacific Islander.
The report also found that African-Americans, who account for less than 10 percent of LA’s population, comprised 41 percent of violent crime suspects in 2015. A full one-third of people arrested for violent crime last year in LA were black, and African-Americans also made up a quarter of all of people stopped by police.
Peter Bibring, a senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, said he was troubled by the numbers. “It’s not surprising that if the LAPD is disproportionately stopping and searching African Americans that they are also disproportionately using force, including deadly force,” he said. “This is a point that we’ve been trying to make for a long time.”