ACLU Report: Anaheim Police Among National Leaders in Excessive Force Use

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ANAHEIM (CNS) - The American Civil Liberties Union of California says civilians in Anaheim are more likely to die at the hands of police officers than the residents of most other big U.S. cities, and it's urging the creation of an independent review board made up of civilians.

An ACLU report analyzed 33 Anaheim officer-involved deaths from 2003 to 2016. The analysis found that of the 33 people killed by Anaheim police, 29 died of gunshot, three by Taser and one after being placed in a chokehold.

Nearly 40 percent of the people killed were unarmed, according to the ACLU report, and more than half of the Anaheim Police Department's fatal shootings were committed by officers who had been involved in at least one previous incident.

Anaheim ranked ninth among the 60 largest U.S. cities in 2015 in the rate of officer-involved deaths during arrests, according to the ACLU.

''Anaheim, which likes to call itself 'The City of kindness,' must grapple with the disparate impact of deadly use-of-force by its police department on low-income communities of color,'' said ACLU SoCal Community Engagement and Policy Advocate Jennifer Rojas, who co-authored the report.

Acting Anaheim Police Chief Julian Harvey disputed the accuracy of the ACLU report.

''We welcome open and honest assessment of how we are doing,'' he said in a statement quoted by the Orange County Register. ''Unfortunately, this report falls short with misstatements designed for maximum impact rather than honestly portraying our city.''

He said the statistics are misleading, but added that ''any loss of life in our city is unfortunate, and the use of lethal force is always a last resort.''

The ACLU started researching officer-involved deaths in Anaheim in 2012, shortly after a two-day period in July of that year when Anaheim police shot two men in unrelated incidents, according to the Register. The shootings of Manuel Diaz and Joel Acevedo sparked violent unrest in the city and, later, the formation of the Anaheim Public Safety Board.

Comprised of nine residents, the board monitors officer-involved shootings, in-custody deaths and other high-profile incidents and makes recommendations for improvements. The Anaheim City Council plans to discuss broadening the board's responsibilities ''or discontinuing it'' as soon as Dec. 5, the Register reported.

The ACLU report precedes the upcoming review and coincides with the city' search for a new police chief to replace Raul Quezada, said Peter Bibring, director of police practices for the ACLU of Southern California, who co-authored the report. Quezada resigned last month following a no-confidence vote by officers.

The ACLU is recommending the Public Safety Board be empowered to conduct full independent reviews of officer-involved homicides and complaints. Currently, the only reviews of police shootings that can result in police discipline or criminal charges are conducted by Anaheim police and the Orange County District Attorney's office.

''It's critical that true, independent civilian oversight, not beholden to the city, be established to examine the actions of the police department,'' Rojas said.

Though the Anaheim PD has nearly 400 sworn officers, the ACLU noted that ''just 50 officers'' were involved in the 33 homicides tracked between 2003 and 2016.

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