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Long Beach sees upswing in officer-involved shootings

Police have shot three people this week alone and nine so far this year. Officials say the incidents involved violent suspects who failed to comply with commands or threatened officers with weapons.

May 29, 2009|Andrew Blankstein

Long Beach police are grappling with a string of officer-involved shootings in recent months, including three this week alone.

Five people were injured in officer-involved shootings during a seven-hour period from Wednesday afternoon to early Thursday, authorities said. One of the victims was a police officer apparently struck by "friendly fire."

So far this year, Long Beach police officers have shot nine people. By comparison, the Los Angeles Police Department -- with 10 times more officers -- reported nine officer-involved shootings, and the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department -- also about 10 times as large -- reported 10 such shootings.

Long Beach police officials acknowledged it was an unusual number for a short period but noted the circumstances were different in each case and involved violent suspects who failed to comply with commands or threatened officers with weapons.

"It's hard to predict when we have these clusters," said department spokeswoman Jackie Bezart. "We are doing the best we can to maintain order like we always do and maintain safety for the citizens like we always do."

Long Beach has seen an increase in homicides so far this year, recording 10 as of May 1 compared to only two during the same period in 2008. But serious crimes overall in the city of 460,000 residents are up more modestly, about 2%.

Of the nine officer-involved shootings, four resulted in fatal wounds to suspects.

Certain neighborhoods in Long Beach have struggled with crime and gang violence, notably districts north of downtown and in North Long Beach.

Like many cities, Long Beach is struggling financially amid the recession and is considering possible cuts to the Police Department, including work furloughs.

Councilwoman Gerrie Schipske said the shootings underscore the danger that officers face -- and should make the City Council wary of cutting back.

"I am concerned about the number of shootings and the danger these shootings have placed on our police and community," Schipske said. "While we may have budget problems, we need to send the message we have zero tolerance for crime and will continue supporting public safety."

One of the incidents took place Wednesday after detectives witnessed a drive-by shooting in Compton, pursued a vehicle with several armed suspects inside and saw their police car hit multiple times by gunfire from the occupants.

Police continued to pursue the suspects and tried to make a felony stop about 5 p.m. on the Willow Street offramp of the southbound 710 Freeway. At that time, police officials said, the officers fired at the suspects.

One officer was treated at a local hospital and released after being wounded by gunfire from a colleague.

All three suspects were hit by bullets and taken to local hospitals. One was pronounced dead, one remains in critical condition and another is in stable condition.

Seven hours later, a second shooting was reported early Thursday as an officer was trying to take into custody a man suspected of breaking a window at a business in the upscale Belmont Shore shopping district.

When the suspect resisted the officer, police said, the officer issued commands and used his baton to subdue him. The suspect then grabbed the baton and the officer fired, critically wounding him.

Both incidents are being investigated by the Long Beach Police Department and the Los Angeles County district attorney's office.

In the third incident this week, police shot and killed a man Sunday at 15th Street and Magnolia Avenue after he allegedly pulled a gun on two gang officers who were chasing him.



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