Capitol Alert

Gavin Newsom, top California lawmakers sign on to bill restricting cops’ use of deadly force

California’s most prominent bill to restrict when cops can use deadly is moving forward, but with changes that make criminal prosecutions of police officers less likely.

Assembly Bill 392 is now co-sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood, all but ensuring the legislation moves closer to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk.

Following the amendments, Newsom said in a news release that AB 392 is “an important bill” that “will help restore community trust in our criminal justice system.”

The changes signify compromise between principal co-author Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, and law enforcement groups that had opposed it.

“With so many unnecessary deaths, I think everyone agrees that we need to change how deadly force is used in California,” Weber said. “We can now move a policy forward that will save lives and change the culture of policing in California.”

Police unions and chiefs worried that the bill’s original language declaring that cops could only use deadly force if it was “necessary” would cause officers to second guess themselves in split-second decisions for fear of repercussion and thus compromise public safety. In April, a police lobbyist called the bill an “impossible standard.”

Currently, officers can use lethal force if their actions are considered “reasonable” to protect themselves or others.

“We need this resolution to save lives, protect public safety, and guarantee justice in every community,” Rendon said in a written statement that praised Weber’s dedication to the issue.

The language now allows lethal action only when “an officer reasonably believes, 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” and when apprehending a fleeing felon that threatens considerable harm.

The bill leaves it up to the court to analyze whether an officer’s action is justified.

The legislation is Weber’s second attempt at reforming California’s use of force law, and in the wake of the decision not to indict the officer who shot and killed Stephon Clark in Sacramento last year, AB 392 became one of the most-watched bills on this session’s agenda.

But it was unclear before Thursday’s revisions whether Weber’s bill had enough steam to pass an Assembly floor vote by the end of next week, when bills have to clear their house of origin in order to stay alive.

“The decision to hold the legislation last year proved to be the right choice,” Atkins said in a written statement. “We spent countless hours as soon as session ended last year right up to today bringing the different groups together so we could begin the difficult conversations needed to arrive at a negotiated agreement. Doing nothing was not an option.”

Now that Weber’s proposal faces better chances, so does Senate Bill 230. State Sen. Anna Caballero’s bill, backed by the California Police Chiefs Association, was once a competing option. But now it’s a companion measure that would update training guidelines and policy standards.

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Hannah Wiley joined The Bee as a legislative reporter in 2019. She produces the morning newsletter for Capitol Alert and previously reported on immigration, education and criminal justice. She’s a Chicago-area native and a graduate of Saint Louis University and Northwestern.