Police organizations drop opposition to Calif. bill strengthening standard for use of deadly force

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Posted at 4:34 PM, May 23, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-23 19:35:03-04

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Two major law enforcement organizations have dropped their opposition to California legislation that strengthens standards for when officers can use of deadly force, a shift that comes after supporters made changes to the measure.

Spokesmen for organizations representing California police chiefs and rank-and-file officers told The Associated Press on Thursday that they won't fight the measure, which was prompted by public outrage over fatal police shootings.

As originally written, the measure would bar police from using lethal force unless it is "necessary" to defend against an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury to officers or bystanders.

That's a change from the current standard, which lets officers kill if they have "reasonable" fear they or others are in imminent danger. The threshold made it rare for officers to be charged following a shooting and rarer still for them to be convicted.

"With so many unnecessary deaths, I think everyone agrees that we need to change how deadly force is used in California," said Democratic Assemblywoman Shirley Weber of San Diego, who wrote the measure. "We can now move a policy forward that will save lives and change the culture of policing in California."

Law enforcement officials did not immediately explain their decision. But a revised version of the bill filed Thursday drops an explicit definition of "necessary" that was in the original version. The deleted language provided that officers could act when there is "no reasonable alternative."

The amended measure also makes it clear that officers are not required to retreat or back down in the face of a suspect's resistance and officers don't lose their right to self-defense if they use "objectively reasonable force."

Amendments also strip out a specific requirement that officers try to de-escalate confrontations before using deadly force but allows the courts to consider officers' actions leading up to fatal shootings, said Peter Bibring, police practices director for the American Civil Liberties Union of California, which proposed the bill and negotiated the changes.

"By requiring that officers use force only when necessary and examining their conduct leading up to use of force, the courts can still consider whether officers needlessly escalated a situation or failed to use de-escalation tactics that could have avoided a shooting," he said.

Even with the changes, the ACLU considers the bill to have the strongest language of any in the country.

Democratic leaders in the Legislature signed on to the revised version, which is set for a key Assembly vote next week.