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‘Police Scorecard’ raises questions about use of force and accountability in California

‘Police Scorecard’ raises questions about use of force and accountability in California
DeRay McKesson, a nationally known criminal justice advocate and co-founder of Campaign Zero, said the data on use of force will help "make decisions that will save lives." (Associated Press)

A national criminal justice reform group published an analysis Wednesday that found nearly half the people seriously injured or killed by police in California’s largest cities in recent years were unarmed during the encounters.

Campaign Zero, which aims to reduce police violence in the U.S., released its “Police Scorecard” in the hopes of shaping future legislative and police policy decisions in California around statistics that it argues highlight inherent bias and other problematic trends in American law enforcement, organizers said.

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“We have the data we need to make decisions that will save lives,” said DeRay Mckesson, a police reform activist who gained notoriety after the 2014 shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. “This project allows citizens to see data about their communities and demand change and accountability.”

The project compiled data for the years 2016 and 2017 from the California Department of Justice’s open data website and FBI Uniform Crime Reports, as well as information obtained through hundreds of public records requests.

Though the current study focused on the state’s 100 largest municipal police departments, organizers plan to expand the project to include data from sheriff’s departments as well as internal disciplinary records that can now be requested under a new state law that opens up some police personnel records.

Grades were calculated by measuring a number of factors, including use of less-lethal and deadly force, police actions that left a person seriously hurt or killed, the frequency with which officers made arrests for misdemeanors compared with arrests for violent crimes, and how often departments upheld citizen complaints and other allegations of wrongdoing.

The study found 49% of the people who were seriously injured or killed by police in California’s 100 largest cities were unarmed at the time of the incident.

Samuel Sinyangwe, a data scientist and co-founder of Campaign Zero who spearheaded the study, said the scoring system did not explicitly punish police agencies for using force.

“The department that performs the best on this is not a department that uses no force, it’s the department that uses force the least often, per arrest,” he said. “We’re not creating a standard that doesn’t exist.”

The study also focused on California’s questionable record of police accountability and suggested evidence of implicit bias in arrests. In 2016 and 2017, the study found, just 1 in 14 civilian complaints of wrongdoing were upheld in the state’s 100 largest police agencies. Civilian complaints of racial bias had only a 1-in-64 chance of being upheld, according to the Campaign Zero study, while use-of-force complaints had a 1-in-78 chance of being upheld.

Last year, a Times analysis of state Department of Justice records found that police across California upheld only 8% of the 200,000 citizen complaints brought against officers from 2008 to 2017. Many police agencies told The Times the statistics unfairly maligned law enforcement agencies that accepted a wide range of citizen complaints, even those that were without basis.

Campaign Zero also said its data showed black people were arrested for drug offenses at a higher rate than white people in 89 of the 100 jurisdictions reviewed, despite “research showing similar rates of drug use and selling between” those racial groups.

“We actually have quite a bit of data available to us now,” said Sinyangwe, adding that Campaign Zero may compile similar data sets in other states where such records are publicly available. “Now, we need to be making data-informed decisions in terms of what we’re pushing for in policy and practice changes.”

Ed Obayashi, a Plumas County sheriff’s deputy and use-of-force advisor to the California Assn. of Police Training Officers, dismissed the findings as “scientifically flawed.” He also questioned the grading system that appears to penalize departments with low rates of upholding use-of-force complaints.

“If you start reading and analyzing the use-of-force reports … I think the public will get a real, better sense as to why the use of force was upheld. I’ve always had an issue with the idea that just because the complaint wasn’t sustained, ‘Oh, there’s a cover-up,’” he said. “I’ve never experienced it on that kind of scale. As you know, many times it’s he said, she said, and typically the tie goes to the officer.”

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