By the Numbers: Are there more police shootings here?

By the Numbers: Are there more police shootings here?
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — Four recent officer-involved shootings in Kern County have some citizens asking questions.

Eyewitness News researched similar shootings in other parts of the state, but comparisons are difficult.

The latest shooting happened Sunday when four Kern County Sheriff's deputies fired at a man in a wheelchair at a South Union Avenue motel. Rodolfo Medrano, 35, had called threatening suicide. Medrano said there were children in the room and told officers he had two guns, according to a sheriff's report.

At one point, he prevented a woman from leaving the motel room, and he refused officers' demands to show them his hands. Deputies talked to Medrano for about 45 minutes.

Medrano eventually came at the officers in the wheelchair, reaching into his waistband and waving a large knife. That's when the officers fired. No guns were found, and it turns out there were no children in the room.

In an incident on May 21, Bakersfield police shot and injured a man on Calle Salida who had threatened his girlfriend. At one point, Victor Chavez, 25, reached back into his car and then came out with an object held in both hands. Officers thought that was gun, though it turned out to be a cellphone. One officer fired.

Checking recent statistics, Bakersfield police say that's the second officer-involved shooting this year in their department. Going back, they report 12 of these incidents in 2010, nine in 2009, one in 2008, eight in 2007, and two officer-involved shootings in 2006.

The Kern County Sheriff's Department provided Eyewitness News with data from the last two years. It reported three officer-involved shootings in 2010, and two this year. Both happened in May.

Eyewitness News contacted eight other jurisdictions to look at their numbers. Some of the smaller departments were unable to provide that data quickly.

Statistics experts suggested several communities that are a "step up" in size, which could be useful for some comparison.

The Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department spokesman said they had one officer-involved shooting in 2008, and hadn't had another until this year. In 2011, they had incidents in January and April.

At the Ventura County Sheriff's Department, Capt. Mike Aranda said they've had two incidents total in the last five years.

Checking areas with much larger populations, Sacramento police reported no officer-involved shootings this year, and a total of 11 incidents from 2006 through 2010.

"This number does not include shootings of dogs, accidental discharges, or when an officer fired his duty weapon but didn't hit anything," spokeswoman Laura Peck responded in an email. All those variables can make it difficult to compare data, depending on how agencies break down their data.

Checking an even larger department, Eyewitness News asked for data from the Los Angeles Police Department. It shows 27 officer-involved shootings in 2009, 31 in 2008, 33 in 2007 and 26 in 2006. Those are situations where a suspect was "hit." The department keeps a different tally for incidents where officers fired, but did not hit a person.

The Bakersfield Police Department and Kern County Sheriff's Office both do the reviews of these incidents. For example, the BPD shooting on Calle Salida was just ruled justified.

The BPD Critical Incident Review Board met and reviewed the reports on the shooting, and concluded the shots fired "were within department policy and within state and federal guidelines." That board was made up of Assistant Chief Lyle Martin and four captains. It was reviewed by Chief Greg Williamson, who concurred with the findings.

In the last five years, one BPD officer-involved shooting was found justified, but not within department policy, according to Detective Fred Calvillo. He said that was an incident in 2006.

With the other agencies that responded to Eyewitness News, it is the district attorney's office in that county that rules on officer-involved shootings. That's the case for the Ventura Sheriff's Department and Sacramento Police Department. The spokesmen for these agencies said all the incidents had been ruled justified.

In the Santa Barbara Sheriff's Department, the spokesman said two officer-involved shootings were found justified, though one very recent incident is still pending.