A new study has found that in most shootings in which Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputies fired at suspects who appeared to be reaching for a weapon, the suspect turned out to be unarmed. And in the last six years, all but two of those people shot were black and Latino, according to the study by the Police Assessment Resource Center for LA County Supervisors.
Over the past six years, approximately 61 percent of all suspects shot because an officer believed they were armed were confirmed to be unarmed at the time of the shooting. A little more than half of those suspects were holding an object such as a cell phone or sunglasses that was believed by deputies to be a possible firearm.
The analysis also found that 61 percent of those shot at by deputies were Latino, 29 percent black and 10 percent white. The LA Times provides some more context:
"Waistband shootings" are particularly controversial because the justification for the shootings can conceivably be fabricated after the fact, according to the county monitor's report. The monitor was careful to point out that the report wasn't making the case deputies were being dishonest, simply that the spike in those shootings left the department vulnerable to criticism.
Merrick Bobb, special counsel to the county Board of Supervisors, also found a rise in shootings in which deputies didn't see an actual gun before firing. In those cases, the person may have had a weapon on them, but never brandished it.
Those shootings spiked by 50% last year, according to the report. Last year also had the highest proportion of people shot by deputies who turned out to be unarmed altogether.
The sheriff's department says these figures are not surprising because deputies patrol areas in south and east Los Angeles County that are home to "a plethora of black and Latino gangs," the San Jose Mercury News reported.
But Bobb, the special council to county supervisors and the author of the report says training and time on the job has a lot to do with how officers react when suspects hands move. "Knowing that black and Latino men are more likely to be shot or shot at ... the sheriff's department should be doing a better job to reduce as far as possible mistaken shootings," Bobb wrote.
His report found that in almost a third of shootings deputies had received no relevant training in the past two years.