Police Abuse

California Lawmakers Aim to Crack Down on Police Shootings, Open Police Conduct Records

Law enforcement is already resisting.


Stephon Clark protester
Renee C. Byer/ZUMA Press/Newscom

The authorities are still investigating the circumstances that drove two Sacramento officers to shoot Stephon Clark, 22, in his own backyard while screaming that the unarmed man had a gun. But the outcry over the case has prompted one California lawmaker to introduce a bill that would change the rules about when police can shoot to kill. Another reform bill would chip at the massive wall concealing information about police misconduct from the public.

The first bill, introduced by Shirley Weber (D–San Diego), is the Police Accountability and Protection Act. It would increase the legal threshold for when officers are allowed to engage in deadly force.

California cops currently can use deadly force if they have "reasonable fear" that they are in danger. This has created a police culture where officers are encouraged to say and even believe they are under a potential dangerous threat with every single encounter ("The suspect was reaching for his belt"). One psychologist even teaches police to be afraid of every encounter with citizens; when they shoot people, he serves as an expert witness to convince juries that the officer was justified because he or she was afraid.

Under Weber's bill, police would not be permitted to use deadly force unless "it is necessary to prevent imminent and serious bodily injury or death," with no reasonable alternative courses of action. The bill also makes it clear that a homicide is not justified if a police officer's "gross negligence" contributed to a situation where lethal force became necessary.

The Peace Officers Research Association of California (PORAC), the state's powerful police lobby, denounced the legislation before its members had even seen it. The group sent out a press release complaining that it was not consulted in the bill's drafting:

Since we have not actually seen the complete language and can only go by what the authors explained is the content of their bill, we are concerned that this reactionary legislation will handcuff peace officers and their abilities to keep communities safe. 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 says it wants to work with lawmakers on Weber's bill, but it is already signaling that it won't accept an increase in the threshold to allow for the use of deadly force.

Weber's proposal seems to be getting more attention, but a transparency bill introduced by Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) could have more impact if it passes. Under her bill, the public would gain access to police records involving officers who use their gun or use force that results in death or serious injury; to officers' records involving on-the-job sexual assault, including offering sex "in exchange for lenience"; and to records involving police dishonesty in reporting, investigating, or prosecuting a crime.

These are much-needed reforms. California is infamous for laws that conceal information about police misconduct—not just from the public but from other government agencies. Citizens thus don't know if misconduct is being appropriately punished, and officers booted from law enforcement agencies can quietly find police work elsewhere.

Whether either bill will get anywhere after the outrage over Clark's shooting fades is another question.

NEXT: Banning 'Assault Weapons' Makes As Much Sense As Banning Opaque Backpacks

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  1. Again I ask, what happened to good old inquest juries whenever someone dies in a weird or suspicious way?

  2. The authorities are still investigating the circumstances that drove two Sacramento officers to shoot Stephon Clark, 22, in his own backyard while screaming that the unarmed man had a gun.

    Technically, they’re stalling for time until everyone moves on to a new shiny object or they can figure a way to weasel out of admitting what their employees did.

  3. The authorities are still investigating the circumstances that drove two Sacramento officers to shoot Stephon Clark

    Well, first they became cops, and then they encountered Stephon Clark.

  4. Reasonable fear allows you to kill? How did this ever become the standard? This is so fucked up.

    1. I just realized this is so similar to the proggo standard for banning speech.

    2. It doesn’t allow me or you to kill, only the king’s men.

      1. Yeah, obviously I know that and that is what I am talking about. It is ridiculous that cops can kill if they feel fear.

        1. It’s not that cops can kill if they feel fear. Cops can kill you because you piss them off. They just have to claim fear. Because what they felt at the time can’t be proved or disproved, uttering the magical incantation “I feared for my life” guarantees that the killing will be justified. Every. Single. Time.

          1. Either that or we’re hiring the world’s biggest pussies to do a job, one would think, not especially suited to pussies.

  5. This just means that the cops will all get trained in a new set of lies to use to justify themselves when they commit murder.

    Take the Stephon Clark case for example. The cops said he was armed, facing them, and moving towards them, making them fear for their lives. In truth he was unarmed, facing away from them, moving away from them, and generally pissing them off because he wouldn’t obey their commands. They shot an unarmed man in the back and then lied about it because that’s what they are trained to do. Every single shooting involves an armed suspect who was facing the officers and menacing them. Every. Single. One. Because that’s what they are trained to put into their reports.

    1. In a just world, the autopsy would put paid to their lying reports, and they would be charged with perjury and murder or manslaughter.

      1. Except that we do not live in a just world. In this world the case will drag on and on until *look! squirrel!* people forget about it, and then it will be quietly swept under the rug.

        In the mean time departments will send their officers be trained in a new set of lies, and nothing else will happen.

    2. As I said in another thread, those cops should be charged with murder 1 and should be facing the death penalty. I know that there is no death penalty in California, but, hey, if we really want to get tough on crime and deport the bad hombres, this is the way to go.

  6. So much simpler to treat cops as ordinary civilians (gtfo, pedants). Anything they do which would result in criminal charges as a civilian, same for cops. Fuck qualified and absolute immunity. Fuck Police Bill of Rights. Just treat them as civilians when they fuck up, and they will learn real quick to not fuck up.

    1. Fucking up? What on earth makes you think this was a fuck up? They did what they train to do, shoot at the slightest failure to show proper deference to State authority. Eventually the citizenry will learn the correct response to our civilian masters.

      1. That’s true. Cops are trained in total officer safety and total compliance. Any threat, real or perceived, justifies deadly force. And failure to obey also justifies deadly force. They’re trained to be afraid of their own shadow and to start shooting the moment they feel scared or annoyed, the whole time knowing that their actions will always be justified.

      2. Like I said, if cops were treated as ordinary civilians. No ordinary civilian would ever be able to fall back on the excuses police use now. Training be damned — if ordinary civilians can’t use that excuse, neither could cops.

        1. We are not protected by unions.

          1. Why aren’t we, actually? What would happen if a significant number of us got together so that we could sell our votes and give our money to the candidate that promises us what we want? Call it a small government union or something like that…

  7. This is a good step, but I doubt anything will come from it.

    But I am not sure about this:

    The bill also makes it clear that a homicide is not justified if a police officer’s “gross negligence” contributed to a situation where lethal force became necessary.

    1. Cop lets perp steal cop’s weapon.
    2. Perp threatens to kill random passerby.
    3. ????

    1. Arguably, irrelevant because Cop 1 has been disarmed and cannot commit the homicide. Cop 2, on the other hand, who was not involved in the gross negligence that led to the stolen weapon, can independently assess the situation and deal with any real threat.

      Gross negligence is a pretty high standard, by the way. This isn’t as simple as “accidentally” leaving your holster unbuttoned.

      1. But the sentence says “a” police officer not “the” police officer.

  8. What the fuck is a “peace” officer?

    1. It’s a guy that can shoot you because you are not chill.

  9. Some animals are more equal than others.

  10. So how would this law work if the cops shot someone with a firearm, and then it turned out the firearm was a pellet gun or airsoft gun? Clearly an airsoft gun poses no threat to anyone but this is a case where I think it is reasonable for an officer to assume that it is a real firearm. Personally, I think officers should be held to a higher standard in the use of deadly force, not a lower standard, than the rest of society.

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