Use-of-Force Reform Bill Sails Through California Assembly

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – Cementing a compromise between California civil rights and law enforcement groups on how to thwart police shootings, California lawmakers approved a tougher use-of-force law Wednesday that supporters hope will become the nationwide standard.

In this Thursday, March 22, 2018, photo, a young man joins others at a demonstration outside the Sacramento City Hall to protest the shooting of Stephon Alonzo Clark, by a pair of Sacramento Police officers. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

In overwhelming and bipartisan fashion, the state Assembly voted 66-2 to approve an update to a nearly 150-year-old law critics claim allows officers to shoot and kill civilians without considering nonlethal alternatives.

“It is obvious to so many people that the current reasonable standard for using force, specifically deadly force set forth in California’s law and the U.S. Constitution, does not recognize the sanctity of human life,” the bill’s author Assemblywoman Shirley Weber said on the Assembly floor.

The San Diego Democrat wants to raise the bar for using deadly force from “reasonable” to “necessary” and only allow officers to shoot when there is an imminent deadly threat. Assembly Bill 392 requires officers to consider nonlethal alternatives and narrows the definition of imminent harm to one that “must be instantly confronted.” It also calls for prosecutors and jurists to examine the actions of both officer and suspect leading up to a deadly use of force.

Wednesday’s floor vote caps years of work by Shirley and supporters such as the American Civil Liberties Union of California. A similar bill failed in the Assembly last year and AB 392 faced a similar fate until last week, when Weber agreed to drop language law enforcement groups claimed would unfairly open officers up to criminal liability.

The legislation stems from the 2018 shooting of Stephon Clark in Sacramento and is modeled after standards that have been implemented at the local level in San Francisco and Seattle.

In a rare showing of unity in California’s polarized Legislature, both Democrats and Republicans gave emotional testimonies in support of AB 392 and thanked Weber for working with law enforcement on a new standard.

Los Angeles Democrat Wendy Carrillo said the bill was “perhaps the most important” currently before the Legislature, while Republican Tom Lackey – a former California Highway Patrol officer – said it has “consumed” his thinking. Republican James Gallagher said AB 392 “strikes the right standard” and highlighted the cooperation between law enforcement and the bill’s supporters.

“The author listened to the very legitimate concerns of our law enforcement community while also trying to ensure that we don’t have future tragedies like we had with Stephon Clark,” Gallagher said.

All three lawmakers voted in favor AB 392, which now advances to the Democratic-controlled state Senate. State Senate Leader Toni Atkins and Gov. Gavin Newsom have gone on record in support of the bill.

Wednesday’s vote comes a day after the state Senate unanimously approved a companion bill requiring law enforcement agencies to adopt policies that promote de-escalation techniques.

Weber, chair of the Legislative Black Caucus, capped the over 80-minute discussion by reiterating the need for California to update the standard adopted in 1872 in order to improve the relationship between minorities and law enforcement. 

“My community deserves to have the luxury of calling the police and knowing that life gets better as a result of them coming,” Weber said. “Because if they don’t feel that then they will not take advantage of it.”

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