New California Law Could Change When Police Can Use Deadly Force

“The death of Stephon Clark seemed to amplify the urgency to address this issue."

Lawmakers in California have proposed the Police Accountability and Community Protection Act, which would redefine when California cops can use deadly force.

The law, which was introduced by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, and unanimously passed through state's Senate Appropriations Committee to be sent to the full Senate, essentially says that police shouldn't kill someone when they have other options. That might sound like common sense, but it'd be a major change from the current California law that hasn't been amended since 1872.   

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"That's absurd," Joe Kocurek, a spokesperson for Assemblymember Weber, said about the law not being changed since 1872. "That's a really long time for a policy to be in place without change or alteration."

New York, NY / USA - March 28th, 2018: Crowd of Protesters with signs at a demonstration following the death of Stephon Clark. Brent Eysler / Shutterstock

Right now, California police are permitted to use any force they believe is "reasonable" to "effect [an] arrest, to prevent escape or to overcome resistance," Mother Jones reported. That means an officer's discretion is often upheld in court, even in cases where they kill unarmed people or a suspect who could have been apprehended without deadly force. Last year, cops shot and killed 162 people in California alone.

Assemblywoman Weber argued in an op-ed for the San Diego Tribune that the new bill would save "both civilian lives and law enforcement lives." The bill would prevent police from using deadly force on someone who was only a threat to themselves and would explicitly emphasize de-escalation. In an event where deadly force was used, the bill would also allow an officer's conduct leading up to an incident to be weighed when considering whether the force was justified.  

"The death of Stephon Clark seemed to amplify the urgency to address this issue," Kocurek said. "It wasn't necessary as the prompt for considering the bill, but in the end, it was the impetus for the bill to move forward at this time."

Other police departments have already used similar law changes to reduce violence in their communities. The Seattle Police Department saw a 60 percent drop in serious incidents of force by the department, with no increase in injuries to officers, according to The Seattle Times. Asked about the potential risk for officers who may be more hesitant or fearful of repercussions on the job, which some police advocates have argued puts them in danger, Kocurek cited the success of Seattle's implementation too.

"There's no evidence of that," he said. "In a city like Seattle, where this has been implemented, there's been no increase of officer injuries or death… there is a lessening of civilian deaths, and either no increase or an actual decrease in the number of officer deaths."

 ChiccoDodiFC / Shutterstock 

Ultimately, Kocurek said that Weber's goal was to save lives — police and citizens both. Their hope is that this bill will do that while also finally answering the call from communities of color to take action. 

"The communities of color, communities in general, they keep seeing it happen over and over again and nothing changes, nothing is altered," Kocurek said. "The individual law enforcement agencies have not, for the most part, altered their policies — so they are looking for us to do something about it."

Cover image via Brent Eysler / Shutterstock

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