Anaheim sees major increase in fatal shootings by police
The controversy over the fatal police shooting of an unarmed Anaheim man is part of a dramatic spike in officer-involved shootings in the city so far this year, according to records reviewed by The Times.
Anaheim police officers have fired at seven people -- killing five -- since Jan. 1. Anaheim accounts for the vast majority of the seven fatal police shootings across Orange County. Anaheim recorded two fatal officer shootings for all of last year, and none in 2010.
The increase comes as Anaheim has experienced an uptick in violent crime, bucking the national trend of lowered crime. FBI statistics show that after several years of decline, Anaheim violent crime increased 10% last year, rising to 1,281 cases from 1,161, and murders soared to 15 from seven. The increase went against a national trend that saw a 4% decrease in violent crime.
Anaheim police officials defend their record, saying that officers are dealing with more gang crime and more gang members with guns.
“The gang crime involving guns is up 40%. The number of guns taken from gang members is up 233%,” said Sgt. Bob Dunn. “The gang crime is up but importantly it is the amount of guns from gangs we’re seeing. Certainly there is more violence on the streets ... gang members committing assault are choosing to use guns rather than other weaponry.”
But community activists who have held a series of protests over the last few weeks say Anaheim police are trigger-happy. While it’s hard to know whether the uptick in officer-involved shooting is a temporary issue, law enforcement experts say it should give the department pause.
“Certainly the numbers are shocking. There is something behind them and it needs to be gotten to the bottom of," said Geoff Alpert, a criminology professor at the University of South Carolina who has extensively studied shootings by officers. “It may be they are a justified response to a level of violence officers are facing. After all, we are talking about a place with significant gangs.”
The issue of officer-involved shooting reached a head last month after officers fatally shot an unarmed man, Manuel Angel Diaz, 25, whose nickname was Stomper. The police union alleges he was seen reaching for something in his waistband.
As Diaz lay near death on an apartment lawn, anger swept through the streets. Soon protesters were hurling bottles at police, while officers fired bean bags. A police dog broke free and attacked protesters.
A day later, police killed another man, Joel Acevedo, 21, who they say had fired at officers during a foot chase. Police released a photo of a handgun lying between his legs.
A violent protest occurred a few days later in downtown Anaheim as officers clashed with demonstrators, some of whom threw objects at police and broke windows of businesses. More than 20 people were arrested.
-- Richard Winton
Photo: Protesters confront police near the Anaheim Police Department last month. Credit: Arkasha Stevenson / Los Angeles Times