Law Enforcement Killed 90 Oakland Residents Since 2000, And 74 Percent Were Black 

Our writers look at the data behind officer-involved killings in the East Bay.

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Many researchers are hopeful that police departments will choose to collaborate — as OPD did with Stanford University — and make more statistics on police activity publicly available. Proponents see data as a tool to better understand interactions between community members and police and, in some cases, to win back the community's trust.

For this story, however, OPD was less than willing to discuss officer-involved killings or its shooting data. After more than a month of requesting to speak with officials about use-of-force training, a department spokesperson only emailed the Express generic policy statements.

The spokesperson also provided statistics from its Criminal Investigations Division on officer-involved shootings. This data stated that, between 2000 and 2015, 28 Oakland residents were killed by officer gunfire. This contradicts the Express' data, which shows this number to be 53.

The spokesperson would not discuss these statistics or provide the data in its original source for analysis.


Changes and Solutions

In the nearby City of Richmond, historically one of the worst cities in California for violent crime, officer-involved fatalities have plummeted over the last decade. Since 2010, only two civilians have died due to use of lethal force.

Academics credit a simulation-based training program implemented by the Richmond Police Department in 2007, which helps officers develop the skills to make non-force-based judgements in the field. This live-action simulation tests an officer's response to a hypothetical scenario — often a pedestrian or vehicle stop where a weapon is present, or where a civilian refuses to comply with orders. At the exercise's conclusion, both the officer and "civilian" speak with an evaluator to discuss their experiences. These evaluations happen at a high frequency — about once a month.

Richmond Police Lt. Felix Tan isn't sure if his department's live-action-training model is an end-all solution to eliminating fatal police encounters. But he explained that it gives officers the opportunity to make high-stakes mistakes — such as being surprised by the presence of a gun or killing an unarmed person — in a training environment instead of in the community.

"The idea is to engage officers to be critical of how they're handling situations," he said. "But officers will always have the need for self-defense, and there will always be people ignoring orders.

"We can't prevent that."

Police in Oakland have adopted a similar training exercise that uses live actors to practice lethal-force situations, according to a former official familiar with the training who spoke to the Express on the condition of anonymity.

This source explained that the training occurs in an extended session only once a year, rather than in monthly sessions, as in Richmond.

The Express contacted OPD for more than a month to discuss this training model and other strategies used to avoid deadly force, but a spokesperson would not discuss these issues, or make officers available for interview.

OPD did state that it has implemented various policy and training changes over the years in an effort to reduce officer-involved killings. For instance, a new strategy disallows officers to chase a suspect who is believed to be armed; instead, they set up perimeters and use K-9 and air support.

The department has also added hours of crisis-intervention and de-escalation training, specifically as it pertains to encounters with mentally unwell individuals.

Elected officials in Oakland, specifically council members representing East and West Oakland and the mayor, declined an email invitation to discuss local officer-involved killings for this story.

Regardless of whether or not there exists a racial-bias in individual officers' judgement in the use of force, the reality is that certain communities continue to experience the brunt of harassment and lethal force at the hands of law enforcement.

A study published this past June by Stanford University psychologists, in cooperation with OPD, confirmed what Black community members have long asserted, at least anecdotally: substantial racial disparities exist in interactions with police.

Dr. Jennifer Eberhardt's examination of traffic-stop data from 2013-14, for instance, found that 60 percent of those stopped were Black — three times the rate of the next largest group, Hispanics. Black men were also more likely than white men to be handcuffed during a stop without being arrested.

To this end, UC Berkeley professor Glaser called officer-involved fatalities "the tip of the iceberg" in understanding racial disparities in policing.

"For every one of these fatalities, there are thousands of pedestrian and vehicle stops that are unjustified," he explained. "They might not be as dire and fatal, but they significantly affect the lives of people of color."

Alan Blueford's mother says its incumbent on police to change. "Sadly it's been in our culture for a very long time," Jeralynn said. "The outrage of today is that it's still going on. Decades of killings. ... That's not the way it should be.

"It's up to them to change that. It's too late for Alan."


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