Today the California Department of Justice launched a new website that publishes data about police interactions with the public, including the number of people who die at the hands of police.
Called Open Justice, the initiative is being billed as the first of its kind to provide detailed data to the public on a variety of crime statistics, including the number of officers killed and assaulted while on duty. The California DOJ says that the effort is a step towards more transparency amidst America’s ongoing debate about citizens dying both in police custody and by cops on the street.
Open Justice has two components: the first being the more public-facing website called Dashboard which includes graphs and more easily digestible stats. The second is the Open Data Portal which includes the raw data on criminal justice in California.
From the data, we can see that between 2005 and 2014 there were 6,837 people who died while in the custody of California police. The single largest cause of death was listed as natural causes at just over 61 percent, while the second most common cause, homicide, accounted for about 14 percent.
Roughly 60 percent of people who died in custody of California police between 2005 and 2014 were non-white. About 29 percent of those killed were Hispanic, and 24 percent of those killed were black.
Chart via Open Justice
The website also has statistics for shootings by California police that would include interactions like the one at the top of this post. In that case, Gardena police officers shot two unarmed men (Warning: Graphic video), killing one of them, Ricardo Diaz Zeferino. The shooting took place in 2013 and the video wasn’t released until July of this year after Gardena police failed in the courts to keep it from being released.
According to the new website, 1,202 people died while being arrested during the time period covering 2005-2014. About 75 percent of those deaths are listed as “homicide,” while 12.5 percent are labeled as “accidental.” Just under 3 percent are named as suicides.
The website breaks down arrest-related deaths by race as well. Hispanics accounted for the largest percentage of people killed by cops in California at roughly 41 percent. About 31 percent of those killed during arrest were white, and 21 percent were black.
Chart via Open Justice
Officials at the California Department of Justice want the public to know that this website will expand. “This is Open Justice 1.0. Think of it as a startup,” Attorney General Kamala D. Harris said in a press conference this morning. “Good government means adopting technology,” Harris would say later, explaining that this is just one step of many in trying to get California up to speed in the 21st century. So far the data only includes data through 2014, and it’s not clear how often the website will be updated.
“This initiative puts forward a common set of facts, data and goals so that we can hold ourselves accountable and improve public safety,” Attorney General Harris said in a public statement. “The California Department of Justice is proud to join with many in the law enforcement community to make our work more transparent.”
On a national level, statistics on shootings by police aren’t even compiled by the FBI, much to the surprise of many news organizations after the shooting death of Michael Brown by police in Ferguson, Missouri last year. Since then the Washington Post has been doing some excellent reporting on the national level to keep tabs on shootings by American police officers. But hopefully other states will soon take California’s lead in providing more information to the public directly.
Image: Screenshot of the 2013 murder of an unarmed man at a traffic stop by police in Gardena, California via LA Times