Data Explanation

Our data on people killed by police in Los Angeles County between 2013 and the present concludes, as of now, that 622 people have died at the hands of police or deputies. This is a larger number than others have reported including the LA Times. We use multiple databases and consider multiple ways that police kill, not just by shooting. We have documentation for every single death and usually that includes more than one source, all of which are publicly available.

The Los Angeles Times has said that it only uses Coroner’s reports that call the death a homicide. Looking at Coroner’s reports will result in mostly shooting deaths. The Times reports that only 2% of their cases are not shooting deaths. However, we have one death that was determined to be a homicide and although it was reported as a homicide by the Times, it was not counted as an “officer involved death,” even though the officers involved were investigated and the only people who could have killed the person. This case is telling because it is eerily similar to the murder of #GeorgeFloyd.

What we saw from the case of George Floyd and many others, people are also killed by excessive force used by officers. Also, Floyd’s death initially was not going to be ruled a homicide until his family had an independent autopsy done that clearly showed that the actions of the police did in fact cause his death. So, we cannot count on Coroner’s reports. It is important to note that police officers are present at autopsies and have been known to tell the coroner what to put on their reports. They, too, are part of what Dr. Yusef Salam of the Central Park/Exonerated 5 calls the “criminal system of injustice.”

There is a large category of cases that police and the District Attorney call “In-Custody” deaths. This category includes not only those who die in jails but also anything other than officer-involved shootings. If someone dies as a result of being tased like #MichaelFrederickMears, after excessive force like #AlesiaThomas, pushed in front of a Metro train, like #CesarRodriguez, or is beaten to death in jail, like #JohnHorton, that gets labeled an “in-custody” death. All of these deaths are investigated by the police departments themselves and reported to the District Attorney. The DA must then decide, as in instances of officer-involved shootings, whether the officers involved should be prosecuted for their participation in the death. This category accounts for 28% (171 cases) of our cases, only 3 of those are listed in the LA Times Homicide Report, and only 2 are designated officer-involved deaths. A good source for us is the site: Fatal Encounters. Additional deaths include murders by police who are pursuing a suspect, where then the non-police suspect is charged with the murder, even if police are the actual killers, as with the shooting of #MelyCorado.

If the DA must investigate these cases and determine the responsibility of officers, then we consider them deaths at the hands of police. If police had not acted as they did, these people would not be dead. In the case of those who die in jails (20% of our cases, 122), clearly the officers have responsibility for the people in their custody, the vast majority of whom are there awaiting trial and have not been convicted of anything, like #WakieshaWilson.

Because these “in-custody” deaths are rarely ruled homicides by the coroner, they will not appear on the LA Times list. In addition, we sometimes do not discover them until years later when District Attorney Lacey makes the decision not to prosecute officers involved and produces a letter to that effect. We therefore have an undercount of these deaths because only a few of these are reported in the press and sometimes even the numbers published by the departments are incorrect. The DA only produces decisions on these cases years after the death. We know of cases that have not been decided from the early 2000s; DA Lacey recently decided a case of a death that happened in 2011. In addition, we only have those documents on cases that were decided after 2016, when Lacey was required to make her decisions public. These cases also account for the vast majority of people whose names we have not been able to find yet. Muckrock News did provide a large number of names in Sheriff’s department download of documents listing in-jail death from 2004-2016, but while this is most, it is not all of the in-jail deaths in the county.

There is another category of deaths that are not represented in the LA Times data; that is those caused by vehicles. When the police decide to chase a person in a car, these chases sometimes end up with someone killed in a crash. Again, we believe that if the police had not chased the person then that crash would not have occurred, no matter whether or not a police vehicle crashed into the person who died or someone else crashed into them. These cases account for a shocking 10% (63) of our cases. Many times, more than one person dies in these crashes. One of the most shocking is the case in which 2 children (7 and 9 years old), who were pedestrians on the sidewalk, were killed in a crash caused by a sheriff’s deputy who made a dangerous turn against a red light in answering a call without turning on the siren. DA Lacey refused to file charges against the deputy even though she was found to be at fault in causing the crash. We believe that we do not have all of these cases, because this data is hard to find and easily missed. The LA Times Homicide Report does include one of these cases, probably because the officer killed the person by literally running over him with his vehicle.

We also have an “other” category which is deaths that do not fit into our most general categories of “in-jail,” “tased,” “excessive force, “vehicle,” or “gunshot.” These amount to only 2% (10) of our cases. For example, there are 2 cases where officers took medicine away from people and those people ending up dead as a result of not having access to their medicine. And there are a few cases where the cause of death is uncertain.

Even with the gunshot cases we have a difference with the LA Times count. Their count for this time period is 348 and ours is 376. The largest reason for this difference is 21 cases we include that were said to be “suicides.” Most of these cases are instances involving police or SWAT teams firing into a building and then later discovering that the person was dead inside the building. We are not sure who determined that these were cases of suicide. However, we also question whether these people would have died, even by self-inflicted wounds, had the police not fired into the building. We also include officers who kill when off-duty: 1% (9 cases). We consider these officers as dangerous as those who kill people when on-duty. Most of these are shooting deaths, but 3 were deaths caused by one officer driving under the influence.

It is also important to note that we have only been able to get the names of officers involved in all of these deaths in 52% of our cases. We have to rely on the letters produced by the DA when she decides not to prosecute in the cases of officer involved shooting and in-custody deaths to obtain these names for the most part. Lacey has only been required to make these documents public since 2016 (note these are not the deaths since 2016, but the letters deciding not to prosecute officers). We were able to obtain a good number of these documents from the KPCC website Officer Involved. However, they obtained letters from 2010 to 2014, which means that we presently do not have any of the letters produced by the DA in the year 2015. Also their data was only shootings, so there are no documents regarding in-custody deaths, which we only have from 2016 to present. Sometimes the LAPD will report the names of the officers involved in deaths in the reports that they post on their news site reporting use of force cases..