Sacramento – On Tuesday, members of the California legislature introduced a measure that calls for significant changes to how law enforcement agencies use deadly force.
AB 931, the Police Accountability and Community Protection Act, was introduced in response to the recent cry for change in the wake of the shooting death of an unarmed Black man in Sacramento, Stephon Clark. Clark’s death represented one more among the many unarmed Black men shot to death by police in California in recent years.
AB 931 was introduced by Assemblymembers Shirley N. Weber, Ph.D. of San Diego and Kevin McCarty of Sacramento. The legislators were joined at the announcement by members of the community, activists and a representative of Stephon Clark’s family.
Under current law, police can use deadly force whenever an “objectively reasonable” officer would have done so under the same circumstances regardless of whether there was an immediate threat to life or bodily security, or whether there were available alternatives.
As a result, the current law has justified and given legal cover to police killings that are not necessary and has widened the rift between grieving communities, particularly communities of color, and the law enforcement agencies entrusted to protect them.
In 2017, police shot and killed 162 people in California, only half of whom were armed with guns. California police departments have some of the highest rates of killings in the nation. For example, Bakersfield, Stockton, Long Beach, Santa Ana and San Bernardino are all in the top 15. Police in Kern County have killed more people per capita than in any other US county, according to a 2015 report.
The revised standard proposed under AB 931 would authorize the use of deadly force only when necessary to prevent imminent death or bodily injury and when, given the totality of the situation and provided there are no reasonable alternatives available, like verbal warnings, verbal persuasion, or other non-lethal methods of resolution or de-escalation.
Commenting on the proposed changes Weber said, “Existing use-of-force laws have made an encounter with law enforcement, no matter how ordinary and no matter whether an individual is unarmed or even cooperative, into one that ends in the death of a civilian.”
She added, “The worst possible outcome is increasingly the only outcome, especially in communities of color.” According to Weber, the proposed legislation will ensure that law enforcement is held to a higher standard, that they have more options for resolving situations without deadly force, and that communities can better trust law enforcement to keep them safe.
Speaking from his perspective McCarthy stressed, “It’s time for California to modernize our century-old deadly force standard.” He added, “Our current law enforcement use of force threshold does not work.”
According to McCarthy, revising California’s use of force standard will help law enforcement transition to a police system that can prevent the deaths of unarmed individuals and build much needed public confidence in how police agencies keep local communities safe.
AB 931 is supported by Black Lives Matter, Alliance for Boys and Men of Color/Policy Link
Anti-Police Terror Project, Communities United for Restorative Youth, Youth Justice Coalition, PICO California and the ACLU of California.
To view the announcement of AB 931 online visit https://vimeo.com/263037294/db19e7b6f7.