Police officers are authorized to use force in the line of duty in order to protect the public they serve. However, inappropriate use of this authority can erode trust between the police and the public and undermine the core mandate of the police to “protect and serve.” Between 2001 and 2016, officers of the Fresno Police Department were involved in 146 officer-involved shootings. This high number of shootings, its disparate impact on low-income communities and communities of color, and the department’s policies and practices have significantly damaged police-community relationships.
A spatial analysis of the demographics of officer-involved shootings revealed that people from low-income communities of color in south Fresno are much more likely to experience an officer-involved shooting than those from Fresno as a whole, and that people from wealthier, predominately white communities in north Fresno are much less likely to experience officer-involved shootings. An analysis of officer-involved shooting victims found that while Hispanic (defined by the U.S. Census as a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin) and Black residents make up about 44 and 8 percent of Fresno’s population, respectively, they account for 58 and 22 percent of officer-involved shooting victims.
The Fresno Police Department also has a pervasive repeat-shooter problem. At least 55 Fresno police officers have been involved in more than one officer-involved shooting. It appears that the department has or has had seven officers involved in four or more officer-involved shootings. This seriously undermines the department’s supervisory practices. And the department’s repeat shooters have discharged their firearm in 62 percent of the 146 officer-involved shootings between 2001 and 2016.
The costs of the Fresno Police Department’s officer-involved shootings exert a massive burden on the city. At least eight wrongful death civil suits have been filed against Fresno, the police department and its officers on behalf of the families of individuals shot and killed by the police. And in the eight closed cases, out of the 19 lawsuits identified on May 3, 2017 as arising from officer-involved shootings from 2008 through 2016, the city has spent more than $5.3 million in defending and settling lawsuits.
Interviews with community stakeholders revealed a number of issues surrounding officer-involved shootings, most notably around the department’s training policies, community relations, transparency, and accountability. Additionally, the community expressed concern over the Office of Independent Review, the municipal agency tasked with reviewing officer-involved shootings in Fresno. Residents believe that the agency’s lack of independent investigative power, limited authority, and insufficient community access have resulted in an agency that is not appropriately equipped to deal with Fresno’s officer-involved shooting problem.
Improved and explicit policies and practices around community engagement and transparency will help to rebuild a foundation of trust and cooperation between police departments and the communities they serve. Better policies and procedures around accountability will reduce officer-involved shootings and restore police-community relations. Policies and procedures around officer training and the prevention of use of lethal force will help reduce officer-involved shootings and promote public safety.
This report recommends a hierarchy of reforms based on their financial feasibility. Policy updates and improvements would require no new resources and would help to improve degraded police-community relationships. Reallocating resources for improved trainings and procedures would help reduce the number of officer-involved shootings while also promoting transparency and accountability. A commitment of new resources to enact a substantive and transparent officer-involved shooting review process could fundamentally change systemic problems with policing in Fresno for the better.