Fact-checking a chalk scrawl: How many people are killed by the LAPD?
The photo above was taken Tuesday night outside Los Angeles Police Department headquarters by The Times' Ben Welsh during protests of the grand jury decision not to indict a white police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown, an 18-year old black man, in Ferguson, Mo., this summer. The statement written on the sidewalk in chalk -- "LAPD killed 1 person per week since 2000. 82% were black or brown" -- is pretty striking. Have L.A. police officers really killed one person per week since 2000?
A quick search for that statement led us back to a story in the Huffington Post referencing a report from the Los Angeles Youth Justice Coalition. The report says that 589 people were killed by law enforcement in Los Angeles County between Jan. 1, 2000, and Aug. 31, 2014.
Note that these numbers refer to the entire county, which is policed by several agencies, not just the LAPD, which patrols the city of Los Angeles. About 3.9 million of the 10 million residents of L.A. County live in the city of Los Angeles.
So let's look at each part of that statement. If we look at the county as a whole, as the report that appears to be the source for the chalk statement did, at a rate of one homicide per week since 2000, there should be more than 720 homicides attributed to law enforcement officials. Keep in mind that calling a death a homicide just means the death was caused by the hand of another, it is not a legal judgment of murder.
The Youth Justice Coalition reported 589 killings by police officials in that time period, a number very close to data gathered for the Homicide Report, which relies largely on the L.A. County coroner's records. The Homicide Report has recorded 590 homicides involving law enforcement officers in all of L.A. County between Jan. 1, 2000, and Aug. 31, 2014, and seven more since that date.
But the chalk writing only mentions the LAPD. So how does the department stack up?
According to Homicide Report data, roughly 38%, or 228, of the county's officer-involved homicides involved LAPD officers. This works out to about 0.3 killings per week.
So what about the claim of 82% being "black or brown?" It's hard to know whether this refers to only blacks and Latinos, or to all minorities. Assuming this means black or Latino, 27% of those killed by law enforcement officers in the County were black, while a little over 50% were Latino. So 77% "black or brown" puts us in the same general range of the chalker claim.
If we count only homicides involving LAPD officers, blacks account for 32% and Latinos 49% of all those killed, for a total of 81%.
Blacks make up about 34% of victims of homicides here, a chronically, disproportionately high number in a county and city where less than 10% of residents are black.
So is the claim of "LAPD killed 1 person per week since 2000. 82% were black or brown," true? The first part is false. The statement seems to mistake all county law enforcement killings for LAPD and then extrapolates to a weekly number that is too high, even countywide. The second statement, however, is close to the overall number for the county, and even closer when we take only LAPD-involved homicides into account.