California law enforcement data shows racial disparity in arrests, deaths

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The California Department of Justice on Wednesday unveiled a state-run website to provide data on law enforcement's interactions with the public in an attempt to improve transparency and government accountability.

Violent arrests are fueling friction between minorities and law enforcement across the nation.

On Wednesday, California Attorney General Kamala Harris acknowledged racial inequities.

"Black lives do matter and our data shows that there are disparities," Harris said while unveiling an initiative aimed at improving transparency and government accountability.

The public will now be able to access data collected by the Department of Justice like never before, and some of it exposes trends that started in the 1980s.

The data includes information such as arrests that end in the death of a citizen or an officer. Harris cited the deaths of young black men at the hands of police in California, Ferguson, Missouri, New York City, Texas and South Carolina.

Part of the conversation surrounding those deaths needs to be data, Harris said.

The Open Justice website was launched Wednesday, and a disturbing racial picture emerged from one analysis.

"Twenty-five percent of the deaths in custody are African American despite the fact that African Americans are 6 percent of California's population," Harris said.

The data also looks at numbers that are not well-known. The majority of in-custody deaths are not caused by violence. According to the Department of Justice records, 61 percent are from natural causes such as cancer, AIDS or other diseases.

State analysts point to positive findings, too. The percentage of African Americans and Latinos being arrested in California has dropped 25 percent in the last four years.

The data released also includes the number of police officers who died in the line of duty: 345 between 1980 and 2014, or 10 annually. Of those, 187 were a direct result of a criminal act, while the rest were considered accidental.

There were 6,837 in-custody deaths between 2005 and 2014, or an average of about 685 annually. Of those, 61 percent were natural deaths, while the second-leading cause was homicides by law enforcement, at 14 percent. Suicides accounted for 10 percent.

From Joe Public to university researchers, all are invited to dig in the data.

"As lawmakers, we can use this data to ensure that our conclusions are driven by facts and that our policies are accurately diagnosing issues in our community," said Rep. Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles.

Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck says the data would be even more helpful to law enforcement if it were available nationwide. Police departments could see how they rank and learn how to do a better job.

"Out of crisis comes opportunity," he said. "We have a national crisis in policing. It's also a huge opportunity to take a step forward and build trust where sometimes in some communities it has been lost."

Some critics, including Peter Bibring, senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, say they want data that is not being collected, like "what happens on stops, whether people are searched, [and] whether anything is recovered in those searches."

Harris said she is supporting a state Assembly bill that would require law enforcement to report non-fatal use-of-force incidents to the state. That data also would be made available online.

Harris said the initiative has far to go, calling Wednesday's launch of Open Justice a first step.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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department of justicekamala harrislapdcustodyracial profilingofficer-involved shootingracismCaliforniaLos Angeles
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