California Governor Signs Use-of-Deadly-Force Bill Aimed at 'Changing the Culture of Policing'

By Susan Jones | August 20, 2019 | 5:18am EDT
California Gov. Gavin Newsom (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

(CNSNews.com) - California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) announced on Monday that California is now a "model for the rest of the nation" when it comes to the use of deadly force by police officers.

Newsom on Monday signed Assembly Bill No. 392, which says police officers may "use deadly force only when necessary in defense of human life."

According to the text of the bill, the "authority to use physical force...is a serious responsibility that shall be exercised judiciously and with respect for human rights and dignity and for the sanctity of every human life."

 

The Legislature declared that "every person has a right to be free from excessive use of force" by police officers.

Newsom told CNN on Monday that changing the legal standard from "reasonable" force to "necessary" force is important, "because we can't accept the status quo."

He noted that in 2017, 162 people were killed in police shootings in the State of California. "It's not good for law enforcement, and it's certainly not good for individuals in the communities that have been disproportionately impacted," Newsom said.

He said the standard for police use of force has not been updated since President Grant was in office.

The precipitating factor in changing the standard was the March 2018 police shooting of Stephon Clark in Sacramento.

Police shot and killed him in the back yard of his grandmother's house, after mistaking his cell phone for a weapon. Police suspected Clark of breaking into cars, and they shot him after he refused orders to show his hands. Instead, police said, he pointed what turned out to be a cell phone at them.

An investigation found the officers had probable cause to stop Clark, and that they were legally justified in using deadly force.

According to Newsom, the police shooting of Stephon Clark "ignited a new resolve" to change the use of force standard, "because it was so unnecessary from the perspective...of the vast majority of objective observers, because people just felt...we had enough."

As a candidate for governor, Newsom said such a thing would not have happened "if you look like me."

"Law enforcement wasn't appreciative of that," Newsom told CNN. "But you know what? I just can't sit by and watch another hundred human beings, 150 human beings lose their lives to excessive force. I mean, look, there are circumstances where it's completely justifiable. And I deeply respect law enforcement. This is not about, you know, trying to just roll one point of view over.

"But the fact is, I've been a mayor in the city of San Francisco. I've seen this firsthand. I've been to too many funerals. I -- you know, I saw what happened to Mario Woods in San Francisco, that was caught on, you know, everybody's video recorders and tapes and smartphones. Enough. We just have to do more and do better.

Newsom said "no," police officers shouldn't be worried about the change from reasonable force to necessary force. "They should only be worried if we don't, commensurate with this legislation, support the training of those officers."

"What kind of training?" Jones asked. "What is the difference ... when you're training an officer to use deadly force only when it's necessary as opposed to when it might be reasonable? What's the difference?"

"Well, we're about to explore that," Newsom said, "because we're going to invest an unprecedented amount of money, tens of millions of dollars, to move through a process of going, step by step, through de-escalation and focusing, now, with much more specificity, on changing the culture of policing.

"What's happened, with all due respect, in the past, is that we have been forcing a lot of expectations on our officers without providing the support and resources to train those officers. The world of policing is radically changing, particularly in a state like California where you're becoming, often, a social worker, and you're dealing with issues of behavioral health and substance abuse, but we're not funding, we're not training programs to help those officers, particularly new officers, deal with those circumstances."

The new law says a police officer is "justified" in using deadly force "only when the officer reasonably believes, based on the totality of the circumstances, that such force is necessary for either of the following reasons:

(A) To defend against an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury to the officer or to another person.

(B) To apprehend a fleeing person for any felony that threatened or resulted in death or serious bodily injury, if the officer reasonably believes that the person will cause death or serious bodily injury to another unless immediately apprehended. Where feasible, a peace officer shall, prior to the use of force, make reasonable efforts to identify themselves as a peace officer and to warn that deadly force may be used, unless the officer has objectively reasonable grounds to believe the person is aware of those facts.

 

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