Sacramento police watchdog urges mayor, City Council to support stricter use-of-force policy

The Sacramento Community Police Review Commission approved a motion Monday night that urges Mayor Darrell Steinberg and the City Council to support Assembly Bill 392, the revived police use-of-force bill that would restrict when officers can use deadly force, and craft its own city policy mirroring the bill.

AB 392, known as the California Act to Save Lives, would tighten the state standard from “reasonable” to “necessary,” meaning an officer would only be permitted to use deadly force in self-defense, defense of another or when a dangerous felon is fleeing.The legislation was originally proposed last year in response to the police shooting death of Stephon Clark, but stalled after strong opposition from law enforcement.

Law enforcement groups argued the change would put officers’ lives and public safety at risk because officers wouldn’t be as aggressive in pursing threats for fear of opening themselves to liability.

Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, the primary author of the bill, said she had met with law enforcement after last year’s legislative session confer on the use-of-force standard, but were unable to reach common ground on the issue.

The debate over the bill began anew this year after Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert announced this month that no criminal charges would be filed against the officers who shot Clark, citing they feared for their lives when they thought Clark was holding a gun but was later found to be an iPhone. State Attorney General Xavier Becerra came to similar conclusions in his investigation and did not charge the officers.

Weber told the commission in a meeting Monday her bill seeks to change the statewide standard to “prevent unnecessary deaths.”

“The power of police officers to use deadly force is perhaps the most significant responsibility we confer on any public official and it must be guided by the goals of safeguarding human life,” Weber said. “However, current law sanctions police use of deadly force even when officers do not face an imminent threat to life or bodily security and even when officers have reasonable alternatives at their disposal to safely address a situation without taking anyone’s life.”

Tim Davis, president of the Sacramento police officer’s union, was not immediately available for comment.

AB 392 is modeled after local ordinances in cities such as Seattle and San Francisco, in which city officials elevated the threshold for deadly force to “necessary” and have reported fewer civilian deaths, Weber said.

In Seattle, officers are under stricter use-of-force restrictions and are required to modulate their force as resistance decreases City policy also requires officers to file more reports when force is used, like when a suspect complains of pain after handcuffs are applied or when an officer points a gun at someone.

Since making those changes, the department reported an 11 percent decrease in incidents of force from 2014 to 2016. Studies on the new standard show there’s no connection between scaled-back use-of-force and threats to public safety and increased crime rates, The Bee reported last week.

The bill aims to reform the state’s use-of-force statute that’s been in place since 1872, and “is squarely in line with best practices and standards recognized by academics and experts in the field,” she said.

The commission unanimously voted in favor of the motion advising City Council to support AB 392, and took it a step further by asking the City Council follow in the steps of Seattle and San Francisco and adopt its own stricter use-of-force policy.

Mayor Steinberg voiced his support for the bill in a news conference after Schubert’s decision, saying he would lobby the legislature on behalf of AB 392.

“The more community support the better,” said Assemblymember Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, who co-authored the bill. “It’s our hope that the City Council would (support AB 392). The mayor already came out and supported the measure as have a few of the council members here so this gives us more momentum to hopefully get this bill passed in 2019.”