Murder Body Outline

A Register investigation shows that one in five fatal incidents across region isn’t disclosed.

Published: June 28, 2014 Updated: June 30, 2014 10:58 a.m.

California’s system for tracking deadly police shootings is plagued by confusion and inadequate oversight, further clouding public knowledge of an officer’s greatest power.

At least one in every five fatal shootings across Southern California isn’t counted in official statewide and national homicide reports, a Register investigation has found. Police shoot and kill more often than the numbers reflect.

The newspaper identified widespread reporting flaws by comparing state data and district attorney records from hundreds of shootings between 2007 and 2011, the latest year available. At least 67 fatal shootings weren’t disclosed as required by state law.

The unreported shootings involved 31 law enforcement agencies, most of which were unaware the cases hadn’t been counted in official reports until contacted by the Register. Most acknowledged error and promised an internal review of reporting practices.

One agency, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, has already adopted new policies aimed at preventing mistakes in response to the newspaper’s findings. Others have provided additional training to records staff and homicide detectives.

“Thank you for really bringing this to our attention,” said Jodi Miller, a spokeswoman for the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department, which didn’t report at least 14 fatal shootings during the five-year period. “The training issues have been corrected.”

The 67 shootings involved agencies large and small, urban and rural, in Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino and San Diego counties. The Register was unable to similarly review Riverside County, because its district attorney doesn’t maintain records of police shooting investigations after one year.

After Ontario police were informed about one unreported case, they found three others had been overlooked, too. Irvine police said they were disappointed that one 2008 case was accidentally missed. A man carrying an assault rifle was fatally shot after a nearly two-hour standoff with SWAT officers.

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