Police officers in Los Angeles County shot and killed 54 people in 2011, an increase of 70 percent over 2010. According to the Los Angeles Times, at least 12 of the 54—or 22 percent—were completely unarmed. "With 612 people killed in the county last year," reports the LAT*, "nearly 1 in every 10 such deaths occurred at the hands of law enforcement officers."
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck told the paper, "By and large these are not shootings of misperception or overreaction." Here’s what happened during one situation in which officers did not overreact:
In October, Downey police responded to an intersection where an armed man had been seen by a 911 caller. The officers spotted Michael Nida, 31, in the area and believed he matched the description the caller had given.
When the officers confronted Nida, he fled. They gave chase, and one of them shot Nida twice in the back with a rifle from about 20 feet away when he "made a gesture that was perceived as a threat," according to the autopsy report.
Nida was unarmed.
A number cruncher with the LA County Office of Independent Review told the Times, "Until you really pull each of them apart, you don't know whether it was just a blip or if it is the start of an upward trend.”
That’s fair, actually, as there are 10 million people in L.A. County. But it was also arguably true about another piece of data released earlier this year. In April, the Department of Justice alleged a “disturbing” upward trend in the number of officers killed in 2011 over 2010 and 2008, and The New York Times ran with it:
According to statistics compiled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, 72 officers were killed by perpetrators in 2011, a 25 percent increase from the previous year and a 75 percent increase from 2008.
The 2011 deaths were the first time that more officers were killed by suspects than car accidents, according to data compiled by the International Association of Chiefs of Police. The number was the highest in nearly two decades, excluding those who died in the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001 and the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.
While a majority of officers were killed in smaller cities, 13 were killed in cities of 250,000 or more. New York City lost two officers last year. On Sunday, four were wounded by a gunman in Brooklyn, bringing to eight the number of officers shot in the city since December.
“We haven’t seen a period of this type of violence in a long time,” said Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly of the New York Police Department.
As Choire Sicha at The Awl pointed out, the "The [New York] Times plays this really big and really wrong," adding that "2008 was the ten-year low for police officers being killed, and 2012 is, so far, year-to-date, down 49% from last year. So it's actually the opposite of a trend: last year was a terrible anomaly."
The Advocacy Center for Equality and Democracy, meanwhile, dinged the NYT for failing to put the officers' deaths in a larger context. Such as this one: "In the only year in which the NYT article and the Bureau of Justice Statistics report overlap, 2008, law enforcement killed roughly 10 times the number of people during arrests (404) than officers killed."
The two stories aren't apple-to-apple, but they do share a few similarities. Neither piece, for instance, features interviews with law enforcement reform advocates, and both heavily weigh the opinions of the local police chief (NYPD's Ray Kelly and LAPD's Charlie Beck) by putting their quotes at the top.
There is a striking difference between the two stories: The L.A. Times notes, "So far this year, the rate of police shootings has fallen back to previous levels." The same is true for the number of police officers killed in 2012, but you won't find that in the NYT story from April.
*Apparently my original paraphrase of this stat confused some folks, so I've quoted the LAT directly.