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California's Justice System Numbers Show a Big Problem When It Comes to Race

The OpenJustice initiative, which comes during a national conversation about discrimination in law enforcement, marks the first time a state has made such data so public and widely available.
Photo by Nick Ut/AP

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California made public a trove of data on Wednesday that shows striking racial imbalances in the state's justice system, particularly regarding disproportionate rates of black people being killed and arrested by police in the state.

Though blacks make up only six percent of California's population, they were implicated in 17 percent of arrests made between 1980 and 2013. Among those who died in the process of arrest or while in police custody between 2005 and 2014, roughly a quarter of them were black.


The information release is the result of a new program by California's Department of Justice called OpenJustice, which the department describes as a broad transparency initiative that seeks to openly use data to better understand and address issues in the state's justice system. California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris announced the "first-of-its-kind" project during a news conference on Wednesday,

"Being 'Smart on Crime' means measuring our effectiveness in the criminal justice system with data and metrics," Harris said. "This initiative puts forward a common set of facts, data and goals so that we can hold ourselves accountable and improve public safety."

Related: FBI Director Talks 'Hard Truths' in Bureau's First-Ever Speech on Race and Policing

Figures for arrest rates, police officer fatalities, and deaths in custody are clearly presented and available on the project'swebsite.

The data, which is also broken down by race, gender, and age, showed that the majority of those arrested and booked for crimes were not white. Hispanics, who make up 37 percent of the state's overall population, are the biggest portion of arrestees between 2005 and 2013 at 42 percent. Non-Hispanic whites comprise 41 percent of the population and account for 35 percent of arrestees in the same span. The booking rate for black juveniles was nearly 20 percent higher than for their white counterparts.

The majority of those who died in police custody were also not white. Between 2005 and 2014, an average of 684 people died in custody per year. Blacks accounted for 24 percent of these deaths, while Hispanics made up about 29 percent.

"It's very stark and we really have to have a dialogue about why so many African-Americans are dying compared to the state population," Justin Erlich, an assistant attorney general overseeing the data analysis,toldthe Associated Press.

California's initiative, which comes during a national conversation about police killings of black people and racial disparities in American law enforcement, marks the first time a state has made criminal justice data so public and widely available. The federal government does not keep comprehensive national statistics on police shootings, which local police departments are not obligated to report, leaving news media to track the numbers by following reports.

The database also showed that 345 officers have been killed since 1980, averaging about 10 a year.

Reuters contributed to this report.