Nearly 90% of police shootings from 2014 to 2019 in Long Beach have involved people of color.
A police official this week said those incidents are less driven by an individual’s race and more by crime patterns and violent acts. But a longtime city resident disagreed, and a community organizer urged that some of the money for policing be redirected to solve problems in other ways and create more opportunities.
A racial breakdown of 33 people in 32 officer-involved shooting incidents from those five years showed that about 45% of individuals in police shootings were Hispanic, followed by about 27% who were Black — about double the city’s Black population — according to a memo by the city manager released this week.
The memo was a part of the city’s Framework for Reconciliation, a formal listening process for officials to learn how racial injustice and inequity have impacted community members. The process started amid protests over the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis.
The data also showed that approximately 12% of people involved in police shootings were Asian, 9% were White and 3% were Filipino. One of the 33 individuals was categorized as “other.”
The Long Beach population is approximately 43% Hispanic, 28% White, 13% Asian and 13% Black, according to city data.
Included in the officer-involved shootings were hit, no-hit and unintentional discharge incidents.
The memo also showed that people of color are more likely to be pulled over for a traffic stop, according to 2019 data. Approximately 36% of people were Hispanic, 27% were Black, 23% were White and 5% were Asian, the memo said.
Long Beach police were one of seven law enforcement agencies in California required to gather traffic stop data in compliance with the 2015 Racial Identity Profiling Act.
A graph showing the racial breakdown of individuals involved in officer-involved shootings in Long Beach from 2015 to 2019. (Courtesy of City of Long Beach)
Long Beach Police Officers’ Association President Rich Chambers said he’s not against the collection of data, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.
“Policing is complex, every situation is different,” he said. “Some of the factors that lead to these police interactions are much more complex than that.”
Long Beach police Deputy Chief Erik Herzog, who investigated officer-involved shootings in the department for years, said race is not a significant factor in the driving forces of police shootings. While each incident is analyzed on a case-by-case basis, Herzog said, more significant indicators leading up to an officer-involved shooting could include crime rates, gang activity, and an individual’s criminal or mental history.
“We look at those kinds of trends and overall things in the community,” Herzog said of the racial breakdown data. “But they’re usually less driven by race and more by crime patterns and violent crime.”
Use-of-force incidents, such as officer-involved shootings, can reflect an increase of violent crime in a certain area, Herzog said. For example, the uptick in suspected gang shootings this week in North Long Beach, he said, has led to increased patrols which could lead to more people being stopped for questioning.
“That increases the likelihood of an encounter,” Herzog said. “We’re going to where the crime is, where the reports are and where the community needs us.”
The Police Department always tries to reduce the need to use force with more training, Herzog said, and has reduced the number of officer-involved shootings in recent years. For example, there were nine police shootings in 2015, with three in 2019.
There was approximately 12% less violent crime in the city in 2019, compared to the five-year average from 2019 to 2014, police data showed.
So far this year, there have been four police shootings. Three included an officer being shot at, which is an unusual spike, Herzog said.
“We’ve been at a little bit of an increase,” he said of crime rates. “We’re still down, but it’s concerning where we’re at right now.”
The locations of officer-involved shootings are fairly geographically spread out in the city from 2015 to 2019, but some areas in the north and central parts of the city had more than others.
Senay Kenfe, who grew up in Central Long Beach, said the numbers don’t surprise him.
“I don’t think that de-escalation is ever a priority from police,” said Kenfe, who owns a book store on Fourth Street featuring Black authors. “Much less when they’re responding to calls that have people of color involved.”
Kenfe, 29, said that while certain areas of the city are hot spots for crime, he doesn’t think there are enough Black officers or officers who live in the city and intimately understand the neighborhoods.
“I think in the case of right now, with North Long Beach, what you’ll find is North Long Beach has a pretty open border,” Kenfe said. “With regards to a lot of the unfortunate ethnic rivalry in gangs that happens in neighboring cities, like in Paramount and Compton, and unfortunately, a lot of that spills over.”
Christine Petit, executive director of nonprofit Long Beach Forward, said that when looking at areas of the city with higher crime rates, there’s more to take into consideration.
“They are talking about communities where people have been denied opportunities to build wealth through homeownership, get loans for businesses, or have access to quality education and good jobs,” she said. “This is all the more reason to move funding away from policing and to redirect it toward Long Beach’s most pressing needs, including jobs and economic opportunities, support for young people and families, stable and affordable housing, quality education, clean air, and other resources that create safe and healthy communities.”
Chambers, the police union president, said that while he supports more community programs, they shouldn’t take away from police funding.
“We understand the importance (of those programs), especially in neighborhoods that need it the most,” he said. “But if there’s funding for that, that should be in addition to — not at the expense — of police departments.”