Policing the police: State off to slow start
Sacramento County Sheriff's deputies at a crime scene in Sacramento on Feb. 28, 2022. Photo by Rahul Lal, Sipa USA via Reuters
California’s new program to police the police has produced few results so far.
That’s according to a new project from CalMatters justice reporter Nigel Duara, who is today launching the state’s most comprehensive public tracker of police shootings of unarmed civilians under investigation by the California Department of Justice.
The department has opened 25 such investigations since July 1, 2021, when the law empowering it to do so took effect. But while Attorney General Rob Bonta said his original goal was to complete the reviews within a year, that hasn’t happened.
Indeed, it wasn’t until last week that the state issued its first report — on a July 15, 2021 shooting in Los Angeles. The verdict: The Justice Department found insufficient evidence to file criminal charges against two Los Angeles Police Department officers who shot and killed Matthew James Sova, 48.
The other 24 cases are still open, and in at least two instances, a local civilian commission already made the decision to clear the officers involved.
CalMatters’ tracker — which includes state Justice Department data, post-incident briefings, coroner reports, body camera footage, dispatcher audio and local news accounts — offers the most complete public accounting to date of the shootings and their aftermath.
It will also be updated with shootings as they are added to the state’s list of investigations, so make sure to bookmark the page and check back often.
Among the tracker’s key findings thus far:
Airsoft rifles, which fire low-impact plastic projectiles, were the most common object mistaken for a gun by police.
The information divulged varies widely by department. Some California police and sheriff’s departments refused to release any details of the shootings, sometimes citing the Justice Department’s investigation. Others released all material requested.
Officers involved in the shootings are not legally compelled to cooperate with the state’s investigation. In the Justice Department’s first completed investigation, neither of the two officers agreed to speak with investigators.
Democratic Assemblymember Kevin McCarty of Sacramento, who wrote the original police shooting law, told Nigel he will propose legislation mandating the Justice Department investigate every police killing of civilians, regardless of whether they were armed. (Although the Justice Department sought $26 million from the Legislature to implement the original law, it received just half that amount.)
CBS stations across California will run a companion piece to Nigel’s investigation next week. The TV program will also air Sunday at 10 p.m. on CBS 13 in Sacramento and on KCAL 9 in Los Angeles.