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Long Beach police Chief Jim McDonnell addressed concerns this week about the three officer-involved shootings that took place in a span of five days, two of which resulted in the death of the suspects.
As with all officer-involved shootings, McDonnell said, investigations are independently being conducted by both LBPD’s homicide division and the L.A. County District Attorney’s office for all three incidents. For the two in which the suspect died, the coroner’s office opened up its own investigation, findings for which will take several months. Each investigation looks for different things.
“The DA sends an investigator and they conduct an independent investigation looking at the officer’s actions to determine if they were legal–that is the primary purpose,” said McDonnell. “Our internal investigation is to determine if actions of the officer was in line with Department policy and state law. We are also looking for more than the officer’s actions. We’re looking for anything that we need to do better next time.”
Within three days of an officer-involved shooting, a critical incident review is conducted by a department review board made up of McDonnell and high-ranking deputy chiefs and command officers. A preliminary synopsis of the case is presented and any immediate issues that need to be addressed are done at this review.
“We want to look at this soon so we can make any changes we need to make without having to wait for full investigation to be complete,” McDonnell said.
This year so far, LBPD has been involved in 16 officer-involved shootings, up from nine last year, according to McDonnell. Of this year’s incidents, four have been fatal shootings, four have been non-fatal hits on a suspect, four resulted in no hit on the suspect and one was an accidental discharge. Three more officer-involved shootings this year also involved dogs. In 2012, two officer-involved shootings resulted in fatalities.
“Some people have asked, ‘How come there were three shootings in one week?’ But that’s not something we control. It’s something circumstances control and the suspects on the street control,” McDonnell said. “…You get your up and down years.”
Since 2009, officer-involved shootings have fluctuated between 17 per year and nine per year with a five-year average of three fatalities a year, according to department statistics.
Of the 22 incidents in the last two years, the majority have involved confrontations with people with guns. Though shootings overall citywide are down 18.3%, according to LBPD, two of the suspects in last week’s officer-involved shootings were in possession of a firearm.
On Saturday, September 21, a man violating a domestic violence restraining order was found exiting a garage at 280 Park Ave. in Belmont Shore with a gun in his hand. Police fired after the suspect refused to drop the weapon. Early in the morning on Wednesday, September 25, Long Beach police killed a suspect in Carson after he led officers in a running gun battle through a gas station, a park and into a residential neighborhood, where he was shot while attempting to break into an occupied home.
On Thursday, a plainclothes officer conducting a narcotics investigation at 17th St. near Junipero Ave. was approached by the suspect in an aggressive manner. When the suspect reached for his waistband, the officer, believing he had a firearm, shot him. A metal baseball bat was recovered on the suspect.
McDonnell says his department follows the standards for reasonableness laid out in the Graham vs. Connor case for their use-of-force training. The 1989 court decision says that a reasonable standard for force is determined by what you could expect anofficer to do under similar circumstances, given the infomtation available to the officers at the time of the incident and not looking at it with 20/20 hindsight.
“Every year we have millions of interactions with the public. When you look at the total number of citizen contacts versus the number of use-of-force complaints we have and the number of officer-involved shootings, those numbers are very very small,” McDonnell said. “Each and every night, the officers are able to diffuse situations that are very volatile and very emotionally charged where suspects are using drugs or alcohol and have weapons. The proliferation of guns on the street…makes for a dangerous environment for police officers.”
This story has been updated with officer-involved shooting statistics for the last five years.