Why California police say changing the lethal force standard is dangerous
California police leaders on Monday sharply criticized lawmakers for blindsiding them last week with a proposal to change the circumstances under which officers can legally kill a suspect.
For three decades, law enforcement has generally followed a standard established by U.S. Supreme Court cases where lethal force is acceptable if a “reasonable” officer in similar circumstances would have acted the same way.
Assembly Bill 931 would tighten the state standard for police use of deadly force from "reasonable" to “necessary,” meaning when there are no alternatives for the officer to consider.
“We find ourselves dumbfounded that legislation of this magnitude was introduced without consulting law enforcement stakeholders,” California Police Chiefs Association President David Swing said at a press conference.
Swing said the measure would put communities at risk by causing police to second-guess their actions and pull back from proactively confronting threats.
But law enforcement groups were never able to share those concerns with the authors, he said, because they found out about the proposal through media reports.
Swing added that his organization would still be open to collaborating on AB 931, though he said it was premature to discuss what changes to the lethal force standard police chiefs might be willing to consider without first talking to supporters of the bill.
“If legislators had come to us prior,” Swing said, “it’s unlikely that we would be here today.”
Democratic Assembly members Shirley Weber of San Diego and Kevin McCarty of Sacramento announced AB 931 last week, following the March shooting of Stephon Clark in south Sacramento.
Clark, 22, was shot last month after being chased into his grandmother’s backyard by two officers responding to reports of a man breaking car windows. Police said the officers thought Clark had a gun; after the shooting, they determined he was holding a cellphone.
Weber said she wanted to put into officers’ minds that there are other things they should try before resorting to deadly force, which she called an “extreme option.”
But Vacaville Police Chief John Carli said Monday that more focus should be placed on how suspects ignore officers’ commands, which puts them in a position of having to respond with greater force.
“That’s one of the challenges we’re seeing more and more in policing, is utterly defiant resistant to the authority that police represent,” Carli said. “Our power is vested through a society that trusts its police, so that’s the paramount issue.”