California State Senator: ‘We don’t have a problem with law enforcement, we got a problem with racism’
Law enforcement organizations are unlikely to compromise with advocates of a proposal this session to restrict the circumstances under which police officers could use deadly force.
Their staunch opposition significantly diminishes the prospects for Assembly Bill 931, which would increase the state standard for lethal use of force from "reasonable" to "necessary," to become law. Though the measure on Tuesday passed its first policy committee, it faces a lengthy and complicated path ahead in a Legislature historically hesitant to cross law enforcement.
At the Senate Public Safety Committee hearing, representatives for rank-and-file police and their management said their objections to the proposed change on use of force could not be resolved by an offer to provide funding to retrain officers.
"We agree that more training can result in better outcomes, but there is a fundamental disagreement about raising the standard above what the Supreme Court has said," Jonathan Feldman, a lobbyist for the California Police Chiefs Association, told The Bee.
A pair of U.S. Supreme Court cases three decades ago created a legal precedent that police can kill suspects if a "reasonable" officer in similar circumstances would have acted the same way. AB 931, which was introduced this spring following the shooting death of Stephon Clark in south Sacramento, would limit that justification to situations where officers have no available alternatives to protect themselves or others.
Law enforcement officials have sharply denounced the proposal, which they contend would put officers' lives in danger by opening up their split-second decisions to further scrutiny in a courtroom. But at Tuesday's hearing, the Peace Officers Research Association of California also brought up concerns about retraining more than 100,000 California police under the new standards.
Sen. Holly Mitchell, a Los Angeles Democrat who has previously criticized law enforcement organizations for blocking legislative efforts to address police shootings, jumped on the argument.
"Is it a mere matter of cost? And from your perspective, what would constitute or justify retraining of police officers?" she asked.
"The training is huge. It's going to be a difficult task to train that many people that fast, and there's no money in the bill to do that," Aaron Read, a lobbyist for PORAC, said. He pointed out that law enforcement organizations had supported legislation several years ago to add training on how to handle suspects with mental health issues.
Mitchell questioned whether a lack of resources for training was their real issue with supporting the bill, because when "law enforcement makes it a priority, we find a way."
"I've sat on public safety committees since I was elected, and I can count on one hand the number of times law enforcement has come to the table to truly collaboratively address issues," she said. "Perhaps mental health is politically an easier pill to swallow than race-based bias."
Democratic lawmakers advanced AB 931 out of the public safety committee on an initial vote of 5-1. Supporters filled the room, many of them carrying pictures of friends and family members who had been killed by police. Several lawmakers expressed that the bill was necessary to address a deeper problem of racism in policing.
"It always blows me away when law enforcement fear for their life only when they're facing black and brown people," Sen. Steve Bradford, D-Gardena, said. "It blows me away me when black and brown men and women don't even get to the jail. They don't even get a chance to be arrested."