This is the second straight year that Los Angeles has outpaced all other cities in the country for the number of officer-involved killings. As of Dec. 16 of this year, Los Angeles Police Department officers have killed 19 civilians, according to data compiled by the Guardian.
Phoenix is second on the list with 14 civilians killed by police officers so far this year; Chicago and Houston have 11 each and San Antonio has 10.
Last year, L.A. topped the list with 19. Its dubious first-place finish is relative, though, since L.A. has a significantly larger population than most of the cities that joined it atop the list this year and last.
Another way to look at it is to compare L.A. to Chicago and New York — the two U.S. cities closest to it in size. New York has twice as many residents as L.A., and a third fewer civilians killed by officers. Chicago’s murder rate this year is higher than those of L.A. and New York combined. But the Chicago Police Department has killed eight fewer civilians than the LAPD.
In L.A., the rate of fatal encounters involving police officers per 100,000 residents so far this year is 0.48. The rate in Chicago is 0.4, and in New York it is 0.14.
The takeaway is that LAPD uses lethal force at a relatively high rate compared with other cities. Meanwhile, the L.A. Police Commission has created use-of-force policies that emphasize de-escalation and the use of minimal force in encounters with the public.
There is no consensus on which U.S. city has the deadliest police force. One reason for this is that 48 of 50 states do not require local law enforcement to report officer-involved shootings. California and Texas are the only states that do. And in those states, local law enforcement underreports data by as much as 30 percent, according to a study published earlier this year in the journal Criminal Justice Policy Review. The most reliable records come from news organizations and scholarly researchers.
L.A.'s relatively high incidence of civilians killed by police applies beyond the city limits to the county as a whole.
Last year, the Guardian compiled data on officer-involved killings for all counties in the United States and found that L.A. County was the 11th deadliest in America. L.A. County Sheriff’s deputies killed 14 civilians last year; including the incorporated cities in the county, the death toll reached 45. As of Dec. 16 of this year, it is already at 49.
No neighborhood in Los Angeles has experienced more on-duty fatal police shootings this year than Boyle Heights. Since February, L.A. police have shot and killed five civilians there, more than a quarter of all fatal police shootings in the city this year. Boyle Heights also had the year’s two youngest victims of police shootings, 16-year-old Jose Mendez and 14-year-old Jesse Romero.
Romero was shot and killed after a brief foot chase on Aug. 9. Witness accounts of the shooting have been contradictory: One witness saw Romero fire a handgun in the direction of the pursuing officers, while another saw him toss a handgun toward a fence on South Breed Street and said that the gunfire began after he disarmed. In September, L.A. Weekly obtained a video that shows the moments immediately after the shooting, in which a handgun can be seen on the opposite side of the fence, several feet behind where Romero's body fell.
In August, L.A. Weekly obtained a separate video that shows Los Angeles police officers dragging the lifeless body of Jose Mendez moments after the 16-year-old was shot by police in Boyle Heights on Feb. 6. Police shot Mendez after a traffic stop; officers had stopped him driving a stolen car.
Police recovered guns from the victims at the scene of both shootings. Indeed, police recovered guns from the scenes of many of the fatalities on the list, though not all.
Father Greg Boyle was the pastor of Dolores Mission in Boyle Heights in 1992, the year the record for homicides was set in Los Angeles County at 2,589. Boyle Heights was a hotbed of gang violence in the 1990s, but the level of violent crime there has plummeted since then, though officials say it is up 57 percent in the Boyle Heights area compared with the same period in 2014.
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Even so, Father Boyle says he doesn't recall any fatal shootings by police in Boyle Heights before this year. He performed the funeral mass for Jesse Romero in the family's living room.
"This year I did three funerals [for civilians shot by police]," Boyle tells L.A. Weekly. "I don't remember doing any before."