Saying that increased transparency can help ease tensions between police and the public, California Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris on Wednesday unlocked state databases on police killings and arrests, while saying law enforcement agencies should be required to report more information about incidents involving force.
"The California Department of Justice sits on a trove of data, a treasure trove of data," Harris said at a news conference in Los Angeles. "The spirit behind this is that we want to share this with the public in a way that can encourage better public policy."
Dubbed by Harris as the "Open Justice" initiative, her plan is built around a website that gives the public access to three sets of data collected by the department: people who die while in custody; arrests and bookings; and police officers killed or injured on duty.
Harris also said she supports a bill being debated by lawmakers that would increase reporting requirements for police. Under the proposed law, departments would have to report to the Department of Justice on all cases in which people are seriously injured by officers in shootings or other uses of force.
Harris said she expects more types of data to be included in the future, and she called on researchers, journalists and others to take advantage of the newly available data. She said she hoped that access to the information would help rebuild ties between police and the public that have eroded badly in the wake of several killings by police in California and elsewhere.
U.S. Rep. Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles), who, along with Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck, joined Harris at the news conference, echoed the attorney general, saying the data could knock down false assumptions held by the public. She pointed out that 61% of the nearly 7,000 people who died in custody between 2005 and 2014 succumbed to natural causes, according to the state's data. Many people, Bass said, would have assumed the majority of the deaths are caused by law enforcement officers.
Asked whether she had concerns about the accuracy of the databases, which rely on local agencies reporting deaths and arrests accurately, Harris said she was confident they were reliable.
There have been indications, however, that police departments do not accurately report in-custody deaths. A report last year by the Orange County Register, for example, found at least 20% of fatal shootings by police in Southern California were not included in the state's count.