Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday signed what it is believed to be one of the toughest laws in the country regulating when police officers can use use deadly force.
The signing of Assembly Bill 392 concludes a legislative battle between law enforcement lobbyists and civil rights groups who, until May, could not agree on how strict the state’s deadly force law should be.
It was shaped by a string of deadly encounters between law enforcement officers and unarmed black men, including the March 2018 shooting of Stephon Clark by Sacramento police. Clark’s death shook the city, with a protest shutting down Interstate 5 one evening and another march leading to mass arrests in East Sacramento this spring.
“This is the Stephon Clark law,” said his brother, Stevante, after the signing on Monday. “This is about his legacy. This is about legislative change.”
During a bill-signing ceremony, Newsom said AB 392 will reduce the number of lives lost by deadly force.
The law “stretches the boundaries of possibility and sends a message to people all across the country that they can do more,” he said. “Training matters, yes. Accountability matters, certainly. Transparency, indeed. But culture. Changing hearts changing minds, changing our approach to dealing with one another.”
The new standard instructs officers to use lethal force only when it is “necessary” based on the totality of circumstances they encounter. That’s considered a stricter standard than today’s practice, which instructs police that they can use deadly force when it is “reasonable” to do so.
The legislation also requires evaluating an officer’s conduct before and after deadly force is used and it emphasizes deescalation tactics as effective alternatives to pulling a trigger.
The bill’s author, Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, a San Diego Democrat, joined Newsom, civil rights groups, Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg and Democratic leaders at the California Secretary of State’s office in Sacramento during the signing.
Weber, who first introduced legislation to change the law in 2018 following the death of Stephon Clark in Sacramento, said the bill was one of her life’s greatest challenges.
“For 400 years, people of color have often had a different kind of justice than others in this nation,” she said. “After 400 years of demonstrating our commitment and humanity to this nation, we deserve fairness and justice.”
Weber at a ceremony with Newsom thanked the families of people who have been killed by police for their support of the bill. “They have remained focused and committed to this work,” she said. “They gave me what was most important in their life—the life of their children—to look after.”
During committee hearings, families of those killed or injured by police demonstrated their support for AB 392 during tear-filled testimonies, some while wearing t-shirts with their loved ones’ printed faces.
Law enforcement representatives argued the original draft created an “impossible” standard that would make police second-guess themselves in life-threatening situations.
But after Weber’s team accepted amendments this spring that rolled back criminal provisions and expanded on the term ‘necessary,’ powerful law enforcement groups rescinded their opposition.
Several Republicans then voted for the bill and Newsom, Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood, offered their support to all but ensure its passage.
Three of the state’s leading law enforcement unions and advocacy groups issued a joint press release Monday commending the Legislature for passing the bill and urging lawmakers to pass another measure, Senate Bill 230, that would provide training to police departments on the new use-of-force standard.
“With the passage of the AB 392 and SB 230 legislative package, California will go further than any other state in the country to provide our officers with the tools and training they have requested and deserve,” said Rick LaBeske, president of the California Association of Highway Patrolmen, in the news release. “This legislative package will serve as an example for other states to follow when updating their own use of force policies.”
Sacramento Bee reporter Sophia Bollag contributed to this report.