During my 28 years as an officer in San Diego and later as chief of police in Seattle, I saw policing change, often for the better and often over the objections of my colleagues in law enforcement.
Change is never easy, but we must make our communities safer – and policing more effective, constitutional and worthy of public trust – by improving our laws, policies, and training. This can and must be accomplished without compromising officer safety.
Assembly Bill 931 requires that police officers use deadly force only when necessary, and that they use de-escalation tactics when possible. With this legislation, California lawmakers, residents and police officers have a unique opportunity to reduce unnecessary deadly shootings of too many people, many unarmed.
According to a recent report by the state Department of Justice, law enforcement officers killed 172 people last year, the most in the nation. That same report found that fewer than half of those individuals had a firearm at the time of their deaths, and that Latino and black residents were subjected to disproportionately high rates of police use of force.
AB 931 is squarely in line with best practices and standards recognized by academics and experts, including the Police Executive Research Forum and the International Association of Chiefs of Police. It is modeled after successful policies at several police departments throughout the country, including Seattle.
Few would deny that police-community relations, particularly with persons of color, are strained. Trust in law enforcement is essential not only for better relations, but to improve public safety and neighborhood health.
Officers in departments with stricter, smarter use of force policies and procedures end up killing fewer people. At the same time, officers in these departments are actually less likely to be killed or seriously injured while on the job.
Policing is never easy. It is arguably society’s most delicate and demanding job. As officers, we never know when a routine encounter will take a dangerous turn. We have a responsibility to do everything in our power to make our officers’ jobs safer. That means reducing the likelihood that routine encounters will become deadly, for officers or citizens.
AB 931 accomplishes that by clarifying officers’ obligations when making the difficult decision to use deadly force. It is a disservice to the public and to our officers to continue to rely on California’s outdated standards.
Norm Stamper, a former police officer in San Diego and former police chief in Seattle, is the author of two books on police reform. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.