Rights activists condemn police violence in California

Los Angeles (AFP) –


Rights activists singled out police in southern California on Monday for excessive use of force and the high number of deaths involving officers, particularly among ethnic minorities.

The American Civil Liberties Union says the level of lethal violence directed at Hispanics and African Americans in the cities of Anaheim and Bakersfield is out of proportion with the level of local crime.

In a report released Monday, the ACLU said Anaheim, in Orange County, "has a rate of officer-involved deaths far exceeding law enforcement agencies in the vast majority of cities of similar and larger size."

In 2014, the city was ranked second safest from violent crime of the 50 largest cities in the United States, according to FBI statistics.

Yet the same figures rank Anaheim ninth in 2015 for the number of officer-involved deaths during arrests.

"Last year alone, the rate of police-involved deaths per million residents in Anaheim outdistanced that of Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Atlanta, Boston and most other large cities," the report states.

Acting Anaheim police chief Julian Harvey said in a statement to AFP that "few public safety agencies" had initiated as much internal review in recent years and brought about as much positive change as his department.

"Our major incident review process is now a model for California. We have brought our officers closer to the neighborhoods they serve and created new ways for the community to share their concerns with us," he added.

He accused the ACLU of "mis-statements designed for maximum impact rather than honestly portraying our city."

The ACLU published a report earlier this month denouncing "a disturbing pattern of shootings, beatings and canine attacks" by police and sheriff's deputies, especially targeting unarmed suspects, in Bakersfield and across Kern County.

Police in Bakersfield did not respond to a request for comment while the Kern County sheriff's department said it would not comment, citing an ongoing investigation by the California public prosecutor.

Peter Bibring, the ACLU's director of police practices for California, warned of a "nationwide problem" with use-of-force standards which was particularly acute in the western state in part because of a culture of secrecy surrounding investigations of officer misconduct.

He noted that a small number of officers in Anaheim and Bakersfield were involved in two deaths or more.

"What's clear is that (in) both those agencies there's no strong civilian oversight and a culture that is permissive," he told AFP.