California Cops Reject Bill That Would Limit Use Of Lethal Force

California law enforcement organizations are in staunch opposition to a new bill which would restrict the circumstances under which police officers can use deadly force in the line of duty, reports Alexei Koseff of the Sacramento Bee.

Assembly Bill 931 would increase the state mandated standard for the use of lethal force from “reasonable” to “necessary” in order to become law. While the bill passed through its first policy committee on Tuesday, it faces an uphill battle in a state legislature that typically doesn’t cross law enforcement

“We agree that more training can result in better outcomes, but there is a fundamental disagreement about raising the standard above what the Supreme Court has said,” Jonathan Feldman, a lobbyist for the California Police Chiefs Association, told The Bee. –Sacramento Bee

Two cases heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in the 1980s set a legal precedent that police officers can kill suspects if a “reasonable” officer in a similar situation would have done the same. AB 931 – introduced this spring following the South Sacramento shooting death of Stephon Clark – would restrict police to using deadly force only in situations where they have no available alternatives to protect themselves or others

Clark, 22, was shot 20 times while holding his cell phone on March 18, sparking a public outrage.

Retraining over 100,000 California police under the new standards has been raised as a concern by the Peace Officers Research Association of California (PORAC) – an argument which CA Senator Holly Mitchell of Los Angeles pushed back against. 

Is it a mere matter of cost? And from your perspective, what would constitute or justify retraining of police officers?” she asked.

The training is huge. It’s going to be a difficult task to train that many people that fast, and there’s no money in the bill to do that,” Aaron Read, a PORAC lobbyist, who noted that law enforcement organizations had supported legislation several years ago to add training on how to handle suspects with mental health issues.

Mitchell questioned whether finding enough money was the real issue, because – she said when “law enforcement makes it a priority, we find a way.”

“I’ve sat on public safety committees since I was elected, and I can count on one hand the number of times law enforcement has come to the table to truly collaboratively address issues,” said Mitchell. “Perhaps mental health is politically an easier pill to swallow than race-based bias.”

Democratic lawmakers moved AB 931 out of the public safety with an initial vote of 5-1 in front of supporters carrying pictures of friends and family who have been killed by police, many of whom say police shootings are racially motivated.

It always blows me away when law enforcement fear for their life only when they’re facing black and brown people,” Sen. Steve Bradford, D-Gardena, said. “It blows me away me when black and brown men and women don’t even get to the jail. They don’t even get a chance to be arrested.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of California is also behind AB 931, with the organization’s legislative advocate Lizzie Buchen noting that California police use deadly force at a higher rate than other states – with five CA police departments in particular leading the statistic; Bakersfield, Stockton, Long Beach, Santa Ana and San Bernardino – all of which are in the top fifteen in the country for killings per capita. 

Accountability is a really important part of changing the culture,” Buchen said. “What steps could you have taken instead of what you did?

“It doesn’t mean they’ve tried all the other things, because we recognize that there are some situations where they’re not going to be able to,” she added.

PORAC has flatly rejected the bill, suggesting that AB 931 is “reactionary legislation” that will “handcuff peace officers and their abilities to keep communities safe.” 

Assembly Bill 931 deceptively pretends that creating a checklist of what constitutes necessary force instead of reasonable force is something more than irresponsible legislation. The end result is that the public will be placed at greater risk. 

Uses of force incidents occur quickly, and while we have always supported greater training and body cameras, this legislation takes a dangerous new step. The legislation will require officers in every rapidly advancing, extraordinarily dangerous situation to employ a checklist that ultimately places everyone at risk. –PORAC

The bill was written in a “political vacuum” says the organization. 

In a June 3 op-ed in the San Francisco Examiner, Arif Alikhan and Seth Stoughton note, among other things: 

AB 931 would provide some much-needed amendments to existing law, but it would also create new problems and exacerbate some old ones. Although we believe the bill was proposed with the best of intentions, it may, counterintuitively, actually lead to more officer-involved shootings.

As much as we might wish it were not the case, officers will occasionally have to use deadly force in response to a deadly threat. The proposed statute properly limits justifiable homicides to those situations in which officers use deadly force to “prevent imminent and serious bodily injury or death to the officer or to a third party.” It also properly prohibits officers from using deadly force against individuals who present a threat only to themselves. –San Francisco Examiner

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