Two-thirds of San Diego County police shootings involved drugs, report says

A protest by UC San Diego students in November in the wake of the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo.
(Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)

Two-thirds of police shootings in San Diego County in the past 20 years have involved persons who were under the influence of drugs, according to a new study by the district attorney’s office of 358 officer-involved shootings.

Methamphetamine “was by far the predominant drug connected to the officer-involved shootings,” according to the study. Many of those who were shot by officers had “multiple substances in their system.”

Nearly 20% had given signs they wanted to commit “suicide by cop,” the study concluded.

Some 44% of the persons who were shot were on parole or probation, the study showed.

In 45% of incidents, the officer fired his or her weapon immediately upon arriving at the scene. In 24% of cases, there was only one officer at the scene.


The report, a followup to a 2007 study, involved shootings from 1993 through 2012. Only shootings by local law enforcement were included; shootings by federal law enforcement do not fall under the jurisdiction of the district attorney.

“It’s our hope that by drilling down on the data, the findings in this report may lead to increased safety for officers and the public,” said Dist. Atty. Bonnie Dumanis at a news conference where the study was released.

Since Dumanis was elected in 2003, two officers have been charged in shooting incidents. Both were acquitted.

In 1996, a jury deliberated for 10 minutes before acquitting a San Diego police officer charged with shooting a suspect after a traffic stop.

According to the report, the situations most likely to result in officer-involved-shooting were traffic stops (48%), followed by domestic violence calls (35%).

Most officers involved were not rookies. The average number of years on the force was nine.


The officers and the civilians who were shot, on the average, were roughly the same age: 35 for the officers, 32 for the civilians.

Most of the cases involved the two largest police agencies: the San Diego Police Department (184) and the county Sheriff’s Department (75).

Sheriff Bill Gore said the study provides “an opportunity to better understand and evaluate the complex factors associated with officer-involved shootings.”

Other findings:

-- 54% of the shootings were fatal.

-- More shootings were on a Saturday (19%) than any other day, ahead of Friday (16%).

-- More than half of shootings took place between 5 p.m. and 3 a.m.

-- In 10% of shootings, an officer was killed or injured.

-- In 5% of shootings, a civilian who “was not the subject was shot and injured.” In 3%, a police dog was injured or killed.

-- The average age of the officers was 35, the youngest being 21, the oldest 63.

-- Of persons shot: 4% were Asian or Filipino, 19% African-American, 36% Latino, 1% Pacific Islander, 37% Anglo, and the race or ethnicity of 4% were unknown.

-- In 19% of incidents, the person had “made statements or behaved in a way that was considered ‘suicide by cop.’”

-- The most common location for a shooting was a street or alley, followed by a parking lot, and inside a home.

-- In 20% of incidents, an officer had tried “less-than-lethal” force, including chemical spray, a police dog, or a baton, before firing.

-- In 8% of cases, the person shot did not have a weapon but had made a “furtive movement” or were shot by accident.

-- In 29 cases, the subject proved to be unarmed but had made a “furtive” movement or was shot by accident.

-- 38% of shootings were preceded by a pursuit, either in a vehicle or on foot.

Craig Carter, chief of the Escondido Police Department, which had 15 officer-involved shootings, said the report allows for “transparency and accountability.”