Chloe Compton, center, joins dozens of others in a demonstration outside the Sacramento Police Department to protest the decision to not prosecute the two officers involved in the 2018 fatal shooting of Stephon Clark, in Sacramento, Calif., March 2, 2019.
Photo: Rich Pedroncelli (AP Photo)

According to a new report, police incidents involving the use of deadly force are on the decline in California.

The Associated Press reports that in 2018, 146 civilians died during encounters with law enforcement. This tally includes unarmed shooting victim Stephon Clark and denotes a significant decline in comparison to 172 civilians in 2017 and 157 in 2016. Additionally, three police officers died last year, a small increase from a mere two in 2017 but a steep drop from eight in 2016.

The use-of-force incidents collected in the report only include “instances where officers fired their guns or people died or were seriously injured during violent encounters with police.”

“Police officers in California do a very difficult job,” Timothy Davis, president of the Sacramento Police Officer’s Association, told KCRA. “They’re out there risking their lives every day. But we also have an obligation to keep the public safe too.”

The state attorney general’s office released four other reports that revealed hate crimes, violent and property crimes, and homicides occurred less frequently too, possibly due to the fact that criminal penalties became significantly more harsh in recent years.

Other findings of note include:

  • Violent confrontations dropped from 707 in 2017 to 628 in 2018. There were a total of 782 in 2016.
  • While rape went up five percent, violent crime and property crime rates dropped 1.5 percent and 5.1 percent respectively, marking the first time since 2014 that both declined in the same year.
  • Felony drug arrests dropped six percent, juvenile arrests dropped 17.5 percent.

Magnus Lofstrom, a criminal justice researcher for the Public Policy Institute of California, draws a correlation between the decline in deadly force and the drop in crime. He notes that with fewer interactions between the police and citizens, it reduces the likelihood of violence occurring.

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“It’s, of course, welcome news when we see a decrease in use of force from year to year,” he told the Associated Press. “These are relatively rare occurrences, so it’s sensitive to just a few events to drive these numbers. We need to be a little careful in reading into these numbers in terms of trends.”

Ronald Lawrence, president of the California Police Chiefs Association, offered a similar sentiment.

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“It doesn’t surprise me that if there’s a dip in crime there’s also a dip in use of force,” he said.

But even with use-of-force incidents on the decline, California still touts one of the highest police shooting rates in the country, which both historically and disproportionately affects communities of color. So while a reduction in police violence is seemingly a step in the right direction, there’s still a tremendous amount of work to be done.

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“Overall, the number demonstrates a depressing need for the legislation to reform California’s police use of force laws, which will save lives,” Peter Bibring, police practices director for the ACLU of California, said.