Compromise on Use of Deadly Force by Police Almost Complete

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

Governor Gavin Newsom signed AB 392 by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, which sets new standards in the use of deadly force by law enforcement. It is the first major change in California’s Use of Force policies since 1874. But it didn’t come easily. It took compromise and all the components of that comprise are yet to be completed. 

There was stiff opposition from the law enforcement community to language in the original bill. They argued that use of deadly force definitions would cause grave dangers for police officers who had to make split second decisions that must balance the fear of the loss of an officer’s life in pursuing a possible criminal and the loss of the officer’s freedom in serving prison time if the decision was found wanting. 

The major bill detail conflict was over the use of the word “necessary”  as in use of force was necessary to prevent loss of life as opposed to the word “reasonable” as in what would be a reasonable reaction by other officers in similar circumstances. The version of the bill signed by the governor settled on the phrase “use deadly force only when necessary in defense of human life.” However, the word “necessary” was not defined in the bill. 

In May on this page, I contended in an article titled, “AB 392 Compromise is the Only Way” that to have a meaningful change in the law to protect the public against unjustified police shootings, which were a legitimate concern and reality in many communities, yet protect police when doing a dangerous job in protecting the public, a compromise was necessary. 

Adjustments to the language helped police organizations back off opposition to the bill, but a second piece of the compromise is needed to make the new standards work as designed. 

SB 230 by Senator Anna Caballero would set new training programs to help the police learn and abide by the new rules set by AB 392. That bill is still working its way through the legislature. 

Many police oriented and law enforcement organizations praised the new AB 392 law, but each argued that SB 230 must pass the legislature and be signed by the governor. 

“Together, AB 392 and SB 230 will modernize our state’s policies on the use of force, implementing the very best practices gathered from across our nation,” said Ron Lawrence, President of the California Police Chiefs Association. “Once both bills are signed and take effect, the real work can begin using the training made available to officers by SB 230 to implement the AB 392 standard.” 

To complete the compromise and move the new standards forward that Gov. Newsom predicted would be a trendsetter for the rest of the nation, SB 230 also must become law.

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