How common are fatal shootings by police in downtown L.A.?
The recent shooting of a homeless man — who was identified Thursday as Charly Leundeu Keunang, 43, after days of international mystery — has once again drawn focus to police use of force.
Los Angeles Police Department officers so far this year have fatally shot three people, two downtown. In addition to Keunang, 24-year-old Pablo Meza was shot and killed Jan. 17 near the intersection of Jesse and Mateo streets. Officers responded to a call of a man with a weapon. Police said he was waving a gun in the air and acting erratically.
Meza died blocks away from skid row, which is defined as the area bordered by East 3rd, Alameda, East 7th and South Main streets.
FOR THE RECORD
2:10 p.m., March 6: An earlier version of this article misspelled the first name of the homeless man killed by the LAPD as Charley Leundeu Keunang. The man's name is spelled Charly.
The trendy parts of downtown Los Angeles, along with the areas dominated by business and government agencies, are generally safe. But officer-involved slayings are more common downtown than in Watts, where the homicide rate is higher.
To arrive at the numbers that follow, the Homicide Report looked at the percentage of homicides involving law enforcement in city and county neighborhoods, as well as the number of officer-involved homicides compared with killings that didn’t involve law enforcement.
Downtown has a population of more than 42,000, according to Census data. Compared with neighborhoods of similar size — Watts and Bell Gardens have populations within 3,000 of downtown's — downtown has the highest rate of officer-involved incidents, with 3 per every 10,000 residents since 2000.
Watts, a community that is more notorious for violence, has 1.4 officer-involved shootings per 10,000 residents. Since 2000, there have been six officer-involved killings in the area; the last person killed was Arturo Cabrales, 22, who ran away from law enforcement after a traffic stop three years ago this week. A gun was recovered after the shooting. Family members dispute the LAPD narrative.
But including non-officer-involved killings, Watts is the deadliest neighborhood — compared with downtown, Bell Gardens and communities of similar size — with 67 killings per 10,000 people. Downtown isn’t far behind, with 52 per 10,000.
In instances involving officers who fire their weapons intentionally, the deadliest neighborhood doesn’t always translate to a higher rate of officer-involved homicides, said Dave Klinger, a criminologist from the University of Missouri at St. Louis.
Klinger conducted a recent study about use of force and levels of violence and found that the deadliest neighborhoods often had a lower rate of officers purposely opening fire than neighborhoods in the mid-range for violence.
Theoretically, Klinger said, cops in the most violent neighborhoods may be in more encounters that have the potential to turn deadly. The difference is that those officers also have a higher degree of “tactical acumen.”
And the same goes for a person who may be involved in a potentially deadly encounter, a person Klinger calls a “savvy suspect.” People in higher-crime neighborhoods are more aware of the police and how to interact with officers.
“People who are used to dealing with the police,” Klinger said, “might tend to take a less aggressive posture toward the police on average.”
Update, March 14: The Times has updated some of the numbers reported in this article. Read more here.
Photo: Pablo Meza was shot to death by police in January near the intersection of Mateo and Jesse streets. Credit: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times