PolitiFact Check: Are Fatal Police Shootings Declining In California?

Mar 12, 2019

Demonstrators march through East Sacramento to protest the DA not filing criminal charges against the officers who shot and killed Stephon Clark.
Credit Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

Are fatal shootings by police on the decline in California?  That's the contention by a law enforcement-backed group in a recent video.  Capital Public Radio's PolitiFact reporter Chris Nichols fact-checked the group's claim.

Protect California is supporting one of two competing bills at the state Capitol that would address when police can use deadly force.

It favors a bill that maintains the threshold of using deadly force when ‘reasonable,’ while a competing proposal would change the standard to ‘when necessary.’

Here’s what Protect California claimed about police shootings:

Protect CA: "Heard the ACLU talk about California’s epidemic of police violence? It’s not true. Fatalities in officer-involved shootings have actually decreased 40 percent in California since 2015."

The group relied on stats from the Washington Post’s database on police shootings, which is considered more comprehensive than any government data.

It shows fatal shootings by police did, indeed, drop 40 percent – from 192 four years ago down to 115 last year.

In between, however, the numbers fluctuated greatly. They averaged about 150 per year.

 “The data are kind of all over the place. Right now, it seems too soon to establish a trend. (:08)

That’s Lizzie Buchen [Bew-ken] of the ACLU of Northern California.

She wrote a blog for the civil rights group describing police shootings in the state as an epidemic. The ACLU supports the bill with a stricter standard for using deadly force.

 “Yes, I stand by the use of the word epidemic. I think it is an enormous problem in California.” (:06)

Whether it’s an epidemic is up for debate. But one thing is clear, the number of fatal shootings did drop significantly last year – but there’s not enough information right now to call it a trend.

In Sacramento, I’m Chris Nichols.