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Police shootings, violent crime increase in Anaheim

By Richard Winton, Los Angeles Times –

ANAHEIM, Calif.—The controversy over the fatal police shooting of an unarmed Anaheim man is part of a significant increase in violent crime and officer-involved shootings in the city so far this year, according to records reviewed by the Los Angeles Times.

Anaheim police officers have fired at seven people — killing five — since Jan. 1. In comparison, there have been two other fatal police shootings in the rest of Orange County. Anaheim recorded two fatal officer shootings in all of 2011 and none in 2010.

Police officials said the increased officer-involved shootings are intertwined with a rise in crime over the last year and a half. They said the biggest problem has been violent, gang-related crimes.

FBI statistics show that after several years of decline, violent crime in Anaheim increased 10 percent in 2011, from 1,161 to 1,281. The number of homicides nearly doubled from seven to 15. The increase went against a national trend that saw a 4 percent decrease in violent crime, according to FBI statistics.

“The gang crime is up, but importantly it is the amount of guns from gangs we’re seeing,” said Anaheim police Sgt. Bob Dunn. “Gang members committing assaults 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 that Anaheim police are too trigger-happy — and that rising violence is no excuse.

While it is hard to know whether the uptick in officer-involved shootings is random or part of something more systemic, 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 police shootings. “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 shootings reached a head last month after officers fatally shot an unarmed man, Manuel Angel Diaz, 25, whose nickname was “Stomper.” The Anaheim Police Officers Association alleges that the officer saw Diaz reaching for something in his waistband before he fired. But his family insists that Diaz was shot from behind.

As Diaz lay near death on an apartment lawn, anger began sweeping through the streets. Soon protesters were hurling bottles at police. Officers responded by firing bean bags. A police dog broke free and attacked protesters.

A day later, police killed another man, Joel Acevedo, 21, who they said had fired at officers during a foot chase. Police released a photograph 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.

The other fatal shootings this year:

—Bernie “Chino” Cervantes, 35, was shot and killed on Jan. 7 after police responded to 911 calls about a man shooting out lights. The weapon turned out to be a BB gun.

—Roscoe Cambridge, 29, allegedly approached a police sergeant Jan. 19 with a knife outside an Anaheim Hills substation parking lot. He was fatally shot.

—Marin Angel Hernandez, 21, was shot March 6 in an alley when he turned with a shotgun toward an officer, police said.

In recent years, Orange County prosecutors have reviewed a number of other Anaheim police shootings and deemed them justified even when suspects had no guns.

The Diaz shooting is now under investigation by the district attorney.

Shooting probes often take more than a year and rarely lead to officers being charged because the law gives them wide discretion in using deadly force.

“It can be lawful and awful,” said Sid Heal, a retired L.A. County sheriff’s commander and force expert. “We have had plenty of people killed reaching to pull up their pants.”

Officer-involved shootings fluctuate among police departments in general. Fatal police shootings are up in Los Angeles County, according to a Times analysis.

Fifty-four people were fatally shot by L.A. County authorities in 2011, according to autopsy reports analyzed by The Times, an increase all the more notable because it occurred at a time when the number of homicides in the area fell to historic lows. With 612 people killed in the county last year, nearly 1 in every 10 such deaths occurred at the hands of law enforcement officers.

In Anaheim, the city has recorded 13 homicides this year — five of them fatal police shootings. That is the highest total since 2009, when Anaheim recorded five fatal police shootings for the entire year.

In October 2008, Anaheim police Officer Kevin Flanagan was chasing four juveniles shortly after midnight. Hearing the commotion, Julian Alexander, a 20-year-old African American, came out of his home with a broomstick in his hand. Flanagan, believing he was being threatened, fatally shot Alexander.

Prosecutors in March 2009 found that the officer acted within the law, saying that Flanagan had told investigators that he shot Alexander twice after the man raised the stick. Prosecutors said that Alexander may not have known Flanagan was a cop, but that the officer believed that the young man posed a threat of serious harm and that therefore Flanagan was justified in shooting him. The American Civil Liberties Union publicly questioned the decision, saying that there was no explanation as to why the fatal shooting of a man in front of his own home warranted not a single criminal charge.

Attorney Brian Dunn said the city paid a $1.5-million settlement in 2010 to Alexander’s daughter, who was born after the shooting. Alexander “was an innocent man protecting his home,” Dunn said.

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That’s because most of the residents are the Mexican drug cartel. Obama don’t seem to have a problem with giving them all amnesty in the U.S. Along with the other 20 million we got running around waiting to try and vote.

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