Police

Bill Would Limit California Cops' Use of Deadly Force

The legislation moves forward following a compromise with law enforcement groups.

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A compromise between California law enforcement and civil rights organizations will allow a bill to move forward that would restrict how police in the state may use deadly force against suspects.

AB 392, introduced by Assemblymember Shirley Weber (D–San Diego), was introduced in response to the 2018 fatal shooting of Stephon Clark. Following a foot chase, Sacramento police officers mistook Clark's cell phone for a gun and opened fire.

The ensuing public outrage was compounded in March when the Sacramento District Attorney's office decided not to file any charges against the two officers involved. California law permits cops to use deadly force if they have a "reasonable fear" that they are in danger. Officers thus can justify the use of deadly force by saying they saw what they thought was a threat, even if the threat wasn't real.

Weber's bill changes this threshold to require that the officer not just believe he or she was in danger, but believe "based on the totality of the circumstances, that deadly force is necessary to defend against an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury to the officer or to another person, or to apprehend a fleeing person for a felony that threatened or resulted in death or serious bodily injury, if the officer reasonably believes that the person will cause death or serious bodily injury to another unless the person is immediately apprehended."

That's a bit of a mouthful, and that's partly due to the aforementioned compromise. The original version of the bill was a bit stricter: That "necessary" use of deadly force referred more specifically to when a police officer objectively believes he or she had no alternatives to the use of deadly force given the totality of the circumstances.

In the Clark example, the police immediately started shooting because they mistakenly thought Clark had fired a gun at them. He did not. The police were not pinned in or out in the open and vulnerable. They had Clark trapped in a backyard and were around a corner from him. They could have backed off for a moment and remained completely safe, and then they might have realized that Clark was not, in fact, shooting at them. That's the kind of decision that the bill was intended to propose.

But law enforcement groups resisted that version of the bill, and so the two sides have reached this compromise. As the Los Angeles Times notes, this doesn't mean the police organizations are supporting AB 392. They remain unhappy about it. It just means they're not going to oppose its passage any longer.

Nevertheless, the bill's supporters are claiming a big win. It certainly seems much more likely to pass now. Peter Bibring, police practices director for the American Civil Liberties Union of California, sent out a prepared statement about the good news:

By requiring that officers use deadly force only when necessary, AB 392 will finally address this serious problem head on and establish one of the strongest state use of force laws in the country.

This groundbreaking bill draws directly from use of force policies that individual law enforcement agencies have successfully adopted throughout the country—and that we know work to reduce use of force incidents while also keeping officers safe.

The bill will now move forward to an Assembly vote. Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom has already declared his support for the legislation. You can read the new compromise text here.

 

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34 responses to “Bill Would Limit California Cops' Use of Deadly Force

  1. As usual, glad CA resolves all of their other issues.

    Cops getting kid glove treatments for over-estimating threats, yes, is terrible.

    But it’s not like CA doesn’t have more pressing issues. Fuck, medieval diseases are on the upswing in LA. There are concerns about the fucking Bubonic Plague making a return.

    But, you know, the Titanic’s deck chairs were never going to move themselves where they needed to go.

    1. I disagree. Agents of the government killing innocent citizens with no accountability or repercussions to the killers – that sounds like the kind of issue that should be right at the top of the legislature’s list to fix.

      Bubonic plague making a return is an issue for public health experts. To be blunt, I think anything the legislature is likely to do that will make that problem worse.

  2. Shot him because cell phones and weapons look exactly the same.

    1. To the cops defense it was at night. Doesn’t make it right though.

    2. “Shot him because cell phones and weapons look exactly the same.”

      Shot him because he was vandalizing cars, running from police, walking towards two officers in a shooting stance, in an unlit backyard, refusing to obey a police command to show his hands and responding with “fuck you” https://youtu.be/_IN-YmosRME

      Don’t bother to get the facts before forming an opinion. And feel free to double down on your uninformed comment. I know you will.

      1. Google “cops rape woman for 11 minutes”.

        Then, if you still have an appetite, go suck cop dick.

        1. Plenty of cop succors at this “libertarian” site. They figuratively fellate uniformed men with great enthusiasm.

          Ask them why.

          1. I’m confused – how does this respond the to the claim that “he was vandalizing cars, running from police, walking towards two officers in a shooting stance, in an unlit backyard, refusing to obey a police command to show his hands and responding with “fuck you””?

            Did he do any or all of these things? Or didn’t he?

            1. Which of those things is a capital offense for which summary execution is legally permissible? And note that being in a “shooting stance” and walking are mutually exclusive.

  3. Why should there even be a separate law about police use of force? The rules for use of force in defense should be the same for cops as for everyone else.

    1. This.

      As the much missed RC Dean once succinctly put, any time a cop shoots someone, it should be put to the “civilian test”. If a non-cop were to perform the exact same action in the very same circumstances, would they be prosecuted for it?

      1. this is always how i evaluate things when a police shooting made the news. “If i shot that guy under the same circumstances, would i expect to end up in the clink or not?”

    2. Total pipe dream, but police use of force (regardless of lethality) should be investigated with a presumption of guilt of the involved officer as an agent of the state. The “suspect” that the officer uses said force against allegedly has a presumption of innocence, which seems to disappear once they’ve been shot/beaten/etc.

  4. “based on the totality of the circumstances, that deadly force is necessary to defend against an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury to the officer or to another person, or to apprehend a fleeing person for a felony that threatened or resulted in death or serious bodily injury, if the officer reasonably believes that the person will cause death or serious bodily injury to another unless the person is immediately apprehended.”

    Why does this attempt at “criminal justice reform” feel like not only like it’s going off the rails, but going off the rails in the wrong direction?

    By requiring that officers use deadly force only when necessary, AB 392 will finally address this serious problem head on and establish one of the strongest state use of force laws in the country.

    The cops are going to argue they were already using force only when necessary. And by the way, that threshold has been in place for 100 years. It’s the training that changed, not the rules.

    1. My guess is that police culture has changed as well, plus there’s a heavy emphasis on active policing rather than passive (that’s the citizenry’s fault – “why didn’t cops do something BEFORE this tragedy happened?”)

      I have trouble believing that the new language will change anything – it all still seems to hinge on what the officer did or did not “reasonably believe” during the incident. As far as I can tell, cops modify what they reasonably believed after the fact so they can avoid getting in trouble for being over-aggressive and risking the lives and limbs of American citizens.

  5. Police should be barred from ever using lethal force, except for extraordinary circumstances (a civilian life is in imminent danger). Can’t figure out how to arrest a suspect without lethal force? Find another job.

    1. I don’t have a problem with cops using deadly force if someone is using deadly force against them. Again, in my opinion something changed in the training over the last 20 years and the “reasonable fear” threshold has gotten so low that now every shooting is “justified”.

    2. People who work in nursing homes and facilities for the mentally handicapped control and restrain combative people all day, every day and very rarely injure them. Maybe cops need some training from them.

      1. People who work in nursing homes and facilities for the mentally handicapped control and restrain combative people all day, every day and very rarely injure them.

        Of course they don’t. Not only is it humane, they have liability.

  6. Attorney: Officer Smith can you please read out loud the statute pertaining to the use of deadly force?

    Smith: “based on the totality of the circumstances, that deadly force is necessary to defend against an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury to the officer or to another person, or to apprehend a fleeing person…”

    Attorney: Let me stop you right there…

    1. to apprehend a fleeing person

      Lynching 101. See, “To Kill A Mockingbird”.

  7. >>>By requiring that officers use deadly force only when necessary

    a LAW was required for this?

  8. I have trouble believing that the new language will change anything – it all still seems to hinge on what the officer did or did not “reasonably believe” during the incident. As far as I can tell, cops modify what they reasonably believed after the fact so they can avoid getting in trouble for being over-aggressive and risking the lives and limbs of American citizens.

    1. Especially because in this case the officers were wearing body cameras and, as is said in the article, they had the guy trapped in a backyard. If societies standards of lethal force are below even this threshold than I doubt this spineless law will change much.

  9. Prosecution and conviction would limit the cops use of deadly force. But as long as cops investigate cops, that isn’t going to happen.

    1. And juries mostly still believe the word of cops over the non-word of the dead victim.

  10. Can they set a new threshold for shooting dogs while they’re at it?

  11. Why not an absolute prohibition on firing first?

    1. Not going to happen. To many dead cops if the guy has a real gun and is going to use it. Waiting to get shot at is stupid if you have a real killer. Yes, it does set up the excuse, I thought he had a gun in his hands, so I shot first.

      1. Doesn’t seem to be an issue when the military operates under a return fire only policy.
        Of course, we get a lot of shot soldiers.
        Maybe the cops should go with drones?
        Or we could require orange stripes on all cell phones?

      2. Better a thousand cops die than one innocent person be beaten, robbed, killed, and raped.

        And yeah, cops do that. It takes a single google search, asshole.

  12. “In the Clark example, the police immediately started shooting because they mistakenly thought Clark had fired a gun at them”

    Ha! You don’t really believe that do you?

  13. Some people want to take all the fun out of being a Republican-platform canonized First Responder™. You can’t enforce absurd looter laws without murdering a few miscreants as examples to put the rear of the Law into whoever survives. Next they’ll be trying to repeal victimless crime laws!

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