Assembly bill takes aim at reducing deadly police shootings in California
Police will have a tougher time justifying the use of deadly force under a new bill expected to clear the state Assembly that represents a rare compromise between reformers and law enforcement groups.
The proposed law, AB 392, would impose a stricter standard for using deadly force, but some say not as strict as originally written. Currently, officers involved in fatal shootings and other force must show their response was “reasonable” to protect their lives or the lives of others. The amended proposal says the force must be “necessary,” but doesn’t define what “necessary” is.
Also missing from the original version of the bill is a requirement that officers first use deescalation methods, such as negotiation and less-than-lethal force.
The bill, authored by Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, is now tied with a separate proposal to increase police training.
Backing the amended bill is Theresa Smith, whose son, Caesar Cruz, was killed in 2009 in a barrage of bullets from Anaheim officers who received a confidential tip that an armed parolee was driving in a Walmart parking lot. Cruz was unarmed and wearing his seat belt when police officers riddled the car with gunfire, saying he appeared to have reached for his waistband.
“I’ve been fighting the last 10 years to make these changes,” Smith said. “It’s a change to hold them accountable and have them stop killing people unless it’s absolutely necessary.”
Smith says the amended bill — the result of opposition to the original version from law enforcement groups — is better than no bill at all.
“I don’t know that it does the job, but it’s a step in a forward direction,” Smith says. “It’s stronger than anyone else has ever had. It’s not a fix all, but it’s a step.”
The Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs and other law enforcement groups are neutral on the amended bill, which almost ensures its passage. Tom Dominguez, president of the Orange County union, said the bill “caused law enforcement to look itself in the mirror and say, ‘We’ve got to address it.’ “
He added that the training component is a key part of the package.
“There’s a price tag associated with training, and the first thing to be cut from budgets is training. And that’s the worst thing to be cut.”
In an official statement accompanying the bill, its author says police kill more people in California than in any other state, with a rate 37 percent higher than the national per capita. In 2017, police killed 172 people in California, only half of whom had guns, the statement said.
Five of the 15 police departments with the highest per capita rate of officer-involved deaths in the nation are in California: Bakersfield, Stockton, Long Beach, Santa Ana and San Bernardino, according to the statement.
Data compiled by the Washington Post indicates that Long Beach had 13 fatal shootings from 2015 to 2018, with nine of the dead armed; San Bernardino had 10 in that same period, with six armed; and Santa Ana had 10 deadly shootings, with two armed.
“These tragedies disproportionately impact communities of color as California police kill unarmed young black and Latino men at significantly higher rates than they do white men,” said Weber’s statement. Of the 33 killed in Long Beach, San Bernardino and Santa Ana during that period, eight were white.
The bill must be voted on by Friday in the Assembly or it will die. Subsequent passage in the state Senate is expected.