SB 230 is fake deadly force reform. Senate should shelve it in committee

Lawmakers, mothers speak out in favor of police use of force bill AB 392

In the wake of the Stephon Clark shooting, Assembly 392 aims to raise the standard under which officers can discharge their firearms. It faced a major test April 9, 2019, in the Assembly Committee on Public Safety.
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In the wake of the Stephon Clark shooting, Assembly 392 aims to raise the standard under which officers can discharge their firearms. It faced a major test April 9, 2019, in the Assembly Committee on Public Safety.

Senate Bill 230 - a police-backed bill designed to thwart serious reform of police deadly force laws - will be heard in the Senate Public Safety Committee today. State Senators who believe we need serious changes to the rules governing police use of deadly force should vote against it.

SB 230, authored by Democratic state Sen. Anna Caballero of Salinas, represents a broken promise. It sounds like reform, but it won’t truly address the problem of unnecessary police violence. It was devised as a cynical attempt to prevent true reform and allow spineless Democrats to vote for nothing while claiming to support “reform.”

To be fair, intense public pressure has resulted in changes to the bill. It originally proposed updated trainings for police but didn’t require anyone to use them. The new version includes a requirement that every police department’s use-of-force policy contain “a minimum standard” rather than a “guideline” and requires that officers “report potential excessive use of force” by other officers. It also requires officers to “intercede” when other officers use excessive force.

These are positive changes. Here’s the problem: SB 230 still leaves it up to each officer to decide when deadly force is “reasonable.” The standard for a police officer killing a citizen should be that it was “necessary” to prevent greater harm.

Only Assembly Bill 392 establishes the necessary standard and holds officers accountable for violations.

The real purpose of SB 230 is to undermine AB 392, authored by Assemblymember Shirley Weber (D-San Diego). AB 392 would modify the existing standard for when police may use deadly force. The current standard, which allows police officers to use deadly force when they consider it “reasonable” to do so, has resulted in the deaths of too many unarmed civilians. A disproportionate number of them have been black men. AB 392 would permit deadly force only when necessary to protect against a deadly threat.

Police groups have launched a campaign to kill the bill, and there’s a chance they may succeed – again. Last year, they scuttled AB 931, a similar bill that was halted in the state Senate due to law enforcement opposition.

“California’s current use-of-force standard is outdated and unconstitutional,” said state Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins in a statement she released after shelving the bill. “It must be modified in a way that reduces preventable deaths and restores the public trust while balancing the ability of law enforcement to adequately protect the public safety.

“As the bill has moved through the legislative process, the author has worked diligently and in good faith with her colleagues and stakeholders to reach a workable consensus.”

These last lines are particularly important. Atkins made it clear that Weber tried to build consensus. Yet police groups and their lobbyists refused to find common ground. Now, they’re pushing Caballero’s phony reform bill.

Two weeks ago, hundreds of citizens showed up to show support for AB 392 in an Assembly committee hearing. It took hours to get through the full outpouring of public support. Only a handful of people showed up to speak against the bill, many of them law enforcement lobbyists.

AB 392 has become more than a legislative goal. It’s become a movement. In the wake of Stephon Clark’s death, Sacramentans have played a prominent role in calling for changes to the law.

Yet police lobbyists refuse to work with Weber, despite repeated promises to do so. That’s because they want fake reform, not real reform.

A vote for SB 230 is a vote to aid and abet the law enforcement lobby’s cynical attempt to block AB 392. Senators should shelve SB 230 in committee and force Caballero to work with Weber on a consensus bill.

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