What lawmakers said about bill to set rules around deadly use of force by police
The movement to reform the use of deadly force by police scored a major victory Tuesday. Senate Bill 230, which was designed by police groups to undermine meaningful reform, met a stunning defeat in committee.
The Senate Public Safety Committee forced the bill’s author, Anna Caballero (D-Salinas), to strip key provisions from the bill. As a result, SB 230 no longer directly threatens to undermine a stronger legislative effort regarding police use of force, Assembly Bill 392, authored by Assemblymember Shirley Weber (D-San Diego).
The committee also “joined” SB 230 with AB 392. This means the police-sponsored bill can’t pass unless Weber’s does. In effect, this puts an end to the law enforcement lobby’s effort to replace AB 392 with their weak window dressing bill.
But the intense debate over how to reform California’s deadly force standard is just beginning. Opponents of AB 392 will have many opportunities to water down or stop the bill this year. They just won’t be able to propose SB 230 as a substitute.
The amended version of SB 230 focuses only on providing more training for police officers. From now on, it is AB 392 that will deal with revising the standard for when law enforcement officers are legally permitted to use deadly force.
It’s hard to overstate the magnitude of this shift. The conflict between the two bills has hinged on the competing definitions for the deadly force standard.
Police groups want to preserve the current standard, set forth in a patchwork of statutes dating back to the 1870s, which allows police officers to use deadly force when they consider it “reasonable” to do so. This vague rule has resulted in the unnecessary deaths of unarmed civilians, a disproportionate number of them people of color.
AB 392 would fundamentally transform this deadly force standard. The bill – known as the “California Act to Save Lives” – would permit use of deadly force only when necessary to protect the lives of officers or citizens, mandating de-escalation when possible. It would also hold officers accountable when they violate the deadly force rules.
We urge the Legislature to pass AB 392 in the strongest form possible so Gov. Gavin Newsom can sign it.
Earlier, we called on the Senate Public Safety Committee to vote against SB 230 because the bill’s only purpose was to undermine AB 392. We asked the committee to shelve SB 230 in committee and force Caballero to work with Weber on a consensus bill.
The committee did the next best thing, stripping the offending provisions and allowing it to go forward as a bill focused on police training. It’s a well-deserved victory for those who have marched in the streets and packed committee hearings to demand change.
On Tuesday, it took hours to work through all public comments. Californians traveled from every part of the state to share stories of loved ones killed by police. Their personal pain, coupled with civic action, is making significant change.
Yet the hard work begins now. Police groups, which have refused to negotiate with AB 392’s author despite promises to do so, will now be forced to engage. Or they might take a scorched earth approach and try to kill both bills, ensuring the status quo.
Hopefully, SB 230’s evisceration in committee will serve as a wake-up call to the law enforcement lobby that scare tactics they’ve traditionally used to wield power in the Capitol have lost some juice. The question now is whether they’ll be partners in shaping long-overdue reform, or if they will become an unreasonable player on the wrong side of history.