FILE - In this April 8, 2019 file photo, Malaki Seku Amen holds up an American flag with the names of people shot and killed by law enforcement officers, as he and others in rally in support of a bill that would restrict the use of deadly force by police, in Sacramento, Calif. Major police organizations confirmed Thursday, May 23 2019, that they won't fight a measure, AB392, by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego that would bar police from using lethal force unless it is necessary to prevent immediate harm to themselves or others. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

Police Drop Opposition To California Bill Tightening Rules For Using Lethal Force

May 23, 2019 - 5:31 pm
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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Two major law enforcement organizations have dropped their opposition to California legislation that strengthens standards for when officers can use deadly force, a shift that followed 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. It was prompted by public outrage over fatal police shootings, including the killing of unarmed vandalism suspect Stephon Clark in Sacramento last year.

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. The deleted language said officers could open fire when there is "no reasonable alternative."

The amended measure also makes 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 allow 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 measure to have the strongest language of any in the U.S.

Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom and Democratic leaders in the Legislature backed the revised version, which is set for an Assembly vote next week. Newsom called it "an important bill, one that will help restore community trust in our criminal justice system."

Law enforcement opponents blocked passage of a similar measure introduced last year after police killed Clark, an unarmed black man, setting off intense protests.

The Peace Officers Research Association of California, which represents rank-and-file officers, and the California Police Chiefs Association both removed their opposition and moved to neutral positions. The groups were the key law enforcement negotiators with Weber's office and the ACLU.

Law enforcement organizations are backing a related Senate measure that would set a national precedent by creating statewide guidelines on when officers can use lethal force and requiring that every officer be trained in ways to avoid opening fire.

The proposed changes have spawned emotional testimony both from those who have lost loved ones in confrontations with police and from officers who have been involved in shootings on the job.

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