Fatal Police Shootings Could Become A Crime Under Proposed California Law

An unprecedented piece of legislation in California could place more responsibility on police officers involved in shootings.

Assembly Bill 392, also known as the California Act to Save Lives, would require police to only shoot people when they are sure that they are protecting themselves and others from danger.

This means that they cannot simply shoot at a suspect for running away or making suspicious movements.

The laws on the books, defined by the Supreme Court’s Graham v Connor ruling in 1989, says that police drawing their weapon and firing on a suspect who is attempting to evade police is a “reasonable” use of force.

Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, discusses her bill that would allow police to use deadly force only when there is no reasonable alternative, during a news conference, on Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2019, in Sacramento, California. / Photo Credit: Rich Pedroncelli/AP

However, this new bill would change the laws in the state to specify that police can only use their weapons in situations where it is absolutely necessary to protect themselves or others.

If passed, the bill would require officers to engage in de-escalation techniques before drawing their weapons.

California has the highest percentage of police shootings per 100,000 people among states with more than 8 million residents, according to Seth Stoughton, a former police officer who is a law professor at the University of South Carolina.

“The states are all over the map in the way they regulate deadly force, with some being very permissive, and that’s where California is right now. This new bill would make the preservation of life law enforcement’s top priority in California. Having the state Legislature tell police officers, ‘This is the job we expect you to do’ is an important piece of symbolism,” Stoughton said.

Protests erupt in Chicago after police shooting of Harith Augustus. JIM YOUNG, AFP/Getty Images

Assembly member Shirley Weber of San Diego, who co-sponsored the legislation, said that violence should be a last resort for police officers.

“The piling on of killings of often unarmed civilians by police for the past six or seven years now is wearing on the conscience of this nation. The thought after these shootings often is, ‘Isn’t there something else police could have done?’ And maybe sometimes there are other things,” Weber said.

As expected, there were critics of the bill, who saw it as an attack on police officers.

Assemblyman Tom Lackey, who served on the California Highway Patrol for 28 years, believes that police need to have the right to shoot first and ask questions later.

San Jose police investigate an officer-involved shooting at the intersection of Kollmar Drive and Story Road in San Jose, Calif., on Saturday, May 4, 2019. Photo Credit: Anda Chu/Bay Area News Group

“This bill is an affront against anyone who wears a badge, and if people understood its consequences, nobody would vote for it. Unless you’ve been in this arena, you don’t understand how fast things unfold,” Lackey said.

Lackey admitted that there was a problem with police protocols that result in shootings, but he doesn’t believe that holding police accountable is the solution.

“This bill isn’t the solution to that problem. You change the policy midstream, and you’ll cause officers to think before reacting, and that time gap is going to be deadly,” Lackey said.

Other similar laws have recently been passed in the state, seeking to hold police accountable for excessive force.

In almost every case, a police shooting is an individual, unrelated event that can’t be predicted, says a statistician who studies risk and uncertainty. / Photo Credit: Alex Milan Tracy/SIPA USA /AP

On the first of this year, Senate Bill 1421 became law, which gives the public access to police records and internal investigation files to get more information about incidents in which police either use lethal force or are suspected of criminal activity, according to USA Today.

Robert Harris, president of Protect California, a coalition of law enforcement associations and trade unions, said that holding police accountable for excessive force “is a line in the sand we don’t want to cross.”

Harris says that the new law “Creates a standard officers will never reach and allows for 20/20 hindsight. I don’t think 392 will reduce incidents, and I fear that officers, out of fear of being second-guessed, won’t be as proactive as they can be about their policing,” Harris says.

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