Shoot First

Ask questions later


In 2010, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department (LASD) had a 50 percent increase in the number of "perception" shootings—shootings in which "deputies perceive, accurately or not, that a suspect may be armed or going for a gun" and then fire their own weapons. According to a report compiled for the department by the Police Assessment Resource Center, a non-profit group that analyzes local and state police agencies, "A little more than half of those suspects were holding an object such as a cell phone or sunglasses that was believed by deputies to be a possible firearm." 

LASD deputies fired on 260 people from 2005 through 2010. Sixty-one percent of those shootings involved suspects who were later determined to be unarmed. "Waistband shootings," in which suspects were fired upon after reaching toward their waists, increased from one-fifth of all incidents to one-third. In almost half of those incidents, the suspects were found to be unarmed. Ninety-six percent of the suspects fired upon by sheriff's deputies were black or Latino. 

Upon reading a draft of the report, the department asked the assessment center to "purge our report of any statement that may be seen as critical or damning if taken out of context." 

The silver lining in the report is that shootings on officers are declining. "In 2005," the report says, "the LASD arrested 107,579 persons. In 2010, the LASD arrested 140,785 persons. At the same time, the overall number of deputy-involved shootings has gone down from 50 to 43." There was a silver lining for suspects, too: Officers missed half the time they fired at people.