A California bill that would radically change the standard for the use of deadly force by police officers got past a key hurdle on Thursday, as the state Senate Appropriations Committee voted unanimously to send it along to the full Senate for debate.
Assembly Bill 931, the Police Accountability and Community Protection Act, would allow officers to use lethal force only when “necessary” to “prevent imminent and serious bodily injury or death” to an officer or bystander, and when there are no “reasonable” nonlethal alternatives—a Taser, for example.
The bill would also mandate that cops attempt to de-escalate potentially volatile situations using “time, distance, communications, and available resources” whenever it is “safe and reasonable” to do so. And it would bar police from using lethal force when a subject is a threat only to himself.
AB931, which is opposed by most of the state’s law enforcement unions, was introduced by Assembly members Shirley Weber of San Diego and Kevin McCarty of Sacramento in the wake of the fatal shooting earlier this year of unarmed 22-year-old Stephon Clark by Sacramento police officers.
In California, according to a Washington Post database, police have shot and killed more than 60 people so far this year—162 were fatally shot last year, although only half had a gun.
It would be about time, supporters say. The state law governing police use of force hasn’t been amended since it was enacted—in 1872.
It’s the oldest untouched use-of-force law in the nation, according to Amnesty International, which supports AB931.
Under the existing law, California cops may use any kind of force they believe is “reasonable” to “effect [an] arrest, to prevent escape or to overcome resistance” of a suspect, regardless of the crime, whether the person is armed, or whether they pose a threat to the officer or another person.
That force standard is looser than the one set by the 1989 Supreme Court ruling in Graham v. Connor, which said an officer’s use of lethal force must be “objectively reasonable”—meaning any officer in the same situation might have made a similar call.
The court also laid out tests to determine the reasonableness of an officer’s actions, including whether a suspect poses an immediate threat to the officer or others, the severity of the alleged crime, whether the suspect is resisting, and whether he is a flight risk or attempting to escape police custody.
Consequently, police use of force in California has been governed by a combination of the Garner ruling and precedents set by state courts. Yet many California police departments still train their officers according to the 1872 law, supporters say, and AB931 provides some much-needed clarity.
The police unions, meanwhile, don’t want officers hands tied. “If 931 goes forward, they are going to be more reactionary,” says Shaun Rundle, deputy director of the California Peace Officers Association, which opposes the bill.
“In instances they’re going to be so second-guessing themselves because they’re worried about being sued or litigated against in court that it may cloud their judgment on whether to pursue somebody, whether to pursue a chase, whether to pursue somebody on foot.”
Via: Mother Jones