Police commissioners concerned by 'significant increase' in shootings by LAPD officers

Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said Tuesday that his department has seen a “significant increase” in the number of shootings by officers so far this year, drawing concern from his civilian bosses.

Officers have fired their guns 12 times in 2017 — compared with seven shootings at this time last year, Beck said. Three people have been killed by police gunfire this year, down from four at this point in 2016.

The increase troubled some of the city’s police commissioners, who have focused their attention on reducing the number of shootings by officers. Beck mentioned the tally at the panel’s weekly meeting, briefing the commissioners on the four most recent shootings, which occurred within a span of five days.

The recent shootings “concern me deeply,” commissioner Shane Murphy Goldsmith said.

“Of course, I withhold judgment on any individual case until I know all the facts,” she said. “I trust that the department is addressing any issues that these incidents may illuminate.”

Matt Johnson, the board’s president, said later that in addition to the Police Commission’s review of each case, the board would also look at any overall trends “to see what we need to be doing differently.”

“It’s too early to draw any conclusions,” Johnson said. “But I am very concerned about it.”

Shootings by officers in cities across the country have stirred heated, persistent debate over how police use force, particularly against African Americans. The LAPD has not been immune to the criticism, as protesters have packed Police Commission meetings and camped outside City Hall to protest shootings by officers here.

The LAPD drew national attention last month when an off-duty officer fired his gun during a confrontation with a group of teenagers who walked across his property in Anaheim. No one was struck by the gunfire — a single shot investigators say was aimed at the ground — but video of the clash quickly went viral, stirring outcry over the officer’s actions.

That incident is included in the LAPD’s 2017 tally. The LAPD counts all shootings by officers, whether on-duty or not, and regardless of whether anyone was struck by gunfire.

Four of this year’s shootings occurred in a five-day span beginning March 4. On that day, officers shot and killed a man holding a metal pipe in downtown Los Angeles. Two days later, officers critically wounded a woman who Beck said pointed a rifle at police in Silver Lake.

A day after that, on March 7, police chased a carjacking suspect into Gardena, shooting and wounding him after he began stabbing a woman inside the stolen truck. The next day, Beck said officers fired at — but missed — a person linked to a car-to-car shooting after he drew a gun during a foot chase in South L.A.

“We had an awful second week of March,” Beck said in an interview Tuesday. “I don’t know what the reason for that is.”

Seven people have been struck by LAPD gunfire this year, two more than this time in 2016, according to figures provided by the department.

The year-end numbers have fluctuated in the last five years. LAPD officers fired their guns in 40 incidents in 2016, down from 48 the year before but up from 31 in 2014.

The numbers through mid-March also vary widely. Although the LAPD has seen an increase this year, the dozen shootings are close to the 13 the department recorded at this point in 2015. By this time in 2014, however, officers had fired their guns only three times.

In 2015, citing the “alarming” increase in shootings, the Police Commission’s president launched an aggressive effort to study and attempt to reduce the number of times officers fired their guns.

Since then, the department has provided officers with a greater number of less-lethal devices such as Tasers, and expanded training that focuses on defusing tense encounters without using deadly force, and is updating its use-of-force policy to specifically mention so-called “de-escalation” efforts.

Aside from the incident in Anaheim — which Beck called an “outlier” — the chief said the shootings this year “appear on their face to be police officers doing what we would expect them to do: Answering 911 calls and unfortunately being confronted by people with evil and deadly intentions.”

The chief said he hadn’t noticed any trends in this year’s shootings, but emphasized that the LAPD pays close attention each time an officer fires his or her gun. Two months into the year, he added, the numbers are “very volatile.”

”Obviously we hope that that pattern changes throughout the year,” he told the commissioners.

kate.mather@latimes.com

@katemather

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