Capitol Alert

All that’s left to overhaul California’s police use-of-force law is Gavin Newsom’s signature

What lawmakers said about bill to set rules around deadly use of force by police

Assembly members Shirley Weber and Kevin McCarty introduce AB 392 designed to set standards for the deadly use of force by police. They used the Stephon Clark shooting in Sacramento as one example of unnecessary use of force by officers.
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Assembly members Shirley Weber and Kevin McCarty introduce AB 392 designed to set standards for the deadly use of force by police. They used the Stephon Clark shooting in Sacramento as one example of unnecessary use of force by officers.

A measure that would make California’s law governing police use of force one of the strictest in the country cleared the Legislature late Monday and is on its way to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk.

Assembly Bill 392 passed the Senate floor on Monday afternoon in the final leg of a yearlong process to elevate California’s deadly force law from when officers think it’s “reasonable” to only when “necessary.”

The Democratic governor is expected to sign the measure. He called it “an important bill” that will “help restore community trust in our criminal justice system” in late May.

AB 392 allows officers to employ lethal force “based on the totality of the circumstances,” but it defines “necessary” as when officers or the public face an imminent threat of death or serious bodily harm.

The bill would require evaluating an officer’s conduct before and after deadly force is used and whether deescalation techniques were attempted as an alternative, but would allow managers to consider “all facts known to the peace officer at the time.”

Monday’s 29-1 vote contrasted with the rocky reception Assemblywoman Shirley Weber encountered when she introduced the bill in February.

The San Diego Democrat and police lobbyists struggled to find a compromise that could satisfy both civil rights groups and law enforcement agencies.

But after accepting amendments that rolled back a provision to hold officers criminally liable if they did not meet the strict standard, the police lobbyists rescinded their opposition.

Family members of Stephon Clark, shot by police in March 2018 after officers responding to a car burglary call mistook his cell phone for a gun, marched to the Capitol a year later in support of the effort.

“It’s taken a long year of commitment by a lot of people,” Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins said. “It was not a simple thing to weave together, to keep the parties coming together to work toward something we could agree upon.”

Costa Mesa Republican state Sen. John Moorlach said the bill would reduce “tragic and possibly preventable” deaths.

Many of his fellow Republicans joined him in supporting the bill.

AB 392 is backed by the American Civil Liberties Union of California, along with hundreds of other organizations and individuals.

Dozens of law enforcement representatives from across the state, however, still oppose the measure.

Weber and the bill’s supporters said the legislation gives California an opportunity to serve as a use-of-force model for other states to follow suit.

“Finally, folks are serious about it,” Weber said. “We were fighting some of the most difficult issues in the state. Who should do it better than California?”

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.
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