In a closely watched Assembly bill, AB 931, sponsored by Assemblywoman Dr. Shirley Weber, from San Diego, and Kevin McCarty, from Sacramento, the bill passed its first legislative test on Tuesday, June 19th (Juneteenth). The bill was passed out of the Senate Public Safety Committee with a 5-1 vote, and sent to the next level for consideration. There will be several more votes to get through before it comes up for a full State Senate/Assembly vote, and most of the various California Peace Officers Associations, including the Police Union, are dead-set against the bill.

As quoted from the California Legislative Counsel’s Digest: “Under existing law, an arrest is made by the actual restraint of the person or by submission to the custody of the arresting officer. Existing law authorizes a peace officer to use reasonable force to effect the arrest, to prevent escape, or to overcome resistance. Existing law does not require an officer to retreat or desist from an attempt to make an arrest because of resistance or threatened resistance of the person being arrested.”

“Under existing law, the use of deadly force resulting in the death of a person is justified when it was necessarily committed in overcoming actual resistance to an arrest, when it was necessarily committed in apprehending a felon who had escaped from custody, or when it was necessarily committed in arresting a person charged with a felony and who was fleeing from justice or resisting arrest.”

“Existing case law prohibits the use of deadly force by a peace officer unless, among other criteria, there is a reasonable fear of death or serious bodily harm to the officer or another.”

AB 931 would limit the use of deadly force by a peace officer only to those situations where it is necessary to prevent imminent and serious bodily injury or death to the officer or to another person. The bill would prohibit the use of deadly force by a peace officer in a situation where an individual poses a risk only to himself or herself. AB 931 would also limit the use of deadly force by a peace officer against a person fleeing from arrest or imprisonment to only those situations in which the officer has probable cause to believe that the person has committed, or intends to commit, a felony involving serious bodily injury or death, and there is an imminent risk of serious bodily injury or death to the officer or to another person if the subject is not immediately apprehended.

AB 931 seeks to establish a new use-of-force policy for California police, from the current “reasonable threat” standard to the more restrictive “only when necessary to stop an imminent threat,” and only after the use of nonlethal tactics to handle the situation have not worked (e.g., measures to talk down the situation, tasing of the suspect, etc.). The bill was a direct response to the shooting of an unarmed Black man, Stephon Clark, by Sacramento police in March of this year. The police chased Mr. Clark into his grandmother’s back yard and shot him dead, saying Mr. Clark’s cell phone looked like a gun in the darkness. No police involved in the shooting were held accountable for Mr. Clark’s death.

Other Black elected officials supporting this legislation are: Assembly Members Holden, Jones-Sawyer, and State Senators Bradford and Mitchell.

In a related situation, the L.A. Police Commission also recently (August, 2017) passed a change in use-of-lethal-force procedures for L.A. policemen, although that revision got neither much publicity nor real traction. Though the measure was supported by the Police Union, and the American Civil Liberties Union, it was widely criticized for being more ‘aspirational’ than actionable. The measure urged the police to show more restraint and to use more de-escalation tactics without actually making it a requirement for officers to do that, nor did it define the de-escalation procedures to use.

We are watching.

Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.

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