SAN DIEGO — Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation Monday co-authored by a San Diego lawmaker that redefines when law enforcement officers can use deadly force.
AB 392, co-written by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, will hold law enforcement officers liable for homicide if an investigation finds the use of deadly force on a civilian was necessitated by the officer’s own actions. Law enforcement will still be able to use deadly force as self- defense, but only when “necessary.”
Weber co-authored the legislation, dubbed the California Act to Save Lives, with Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento. Sen. Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, introduced the bill in the state Senate.
“We were told by so many that it could not happen and we had felt that we were at the brink of failure at one point in this whole process,” Weber said. “I felt the weight of the families. It’s been a difficult journey because they entrusted me with trying to make change. My greatest fear is that if we had failed, those who want to make change will never work to do it again.”
Weber and McCarty introduced a similar bill last year after two Sacramento police officers shot and killed Stephon Clark, an unarmed black man, but it made little progress in the legislature. Weber said she battled with former Gov. Jerry Brown and opposition from law enforcement over the bill, even threatening a hunger strike last year.
The two officers were not charged in Clark’s death. Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert ruled in March that they were legally justified in killing Clark because they said they felt they were in imminent danger. The decision prompted public outcry and further inflamed the national conversation about police violence and its ties to race.
“It’s one thing to sign a piece of paper, pass legislation,” Newsom said. “It’s another to change hearts and minds, to change culture. To change the way people conduct themselves, to hold themselves to a higher standard … That’s the work that we, collectively as a community, need to manifest at peril of missing this moment and missing the point of this moment.”
At one time, AB 392 appeared stalled again amid unresolved tensions between state legislators and law enforcement officials. That tension dissolved when the two sides struck a deal in May to amend the bill by changing “reasonable” to “necessary” and removing language mandating officers to use lethal force only after using non-lethal alternatives.
As a result of the deal, state law enforcement groups like the California Highway Patrol, Peace Officers Research Association of California and California State Sheriffs’ Association shifted their official stance on the bill from opposition to neutrality.
A second piece of legislation, currently mired in the Assembly’s committee process, would require law enforcement agencies to train officers in accordance with AB 392. SB 230 would also standardize de-escalation training requirements statewide in an effort to ensure all stakeholders are on the same page.
SB 230 is supported, in part, by a coalition of PORAC, the California Police Chiefs and the California Association of Highway Patrols.
“Together, AB 392 and SB 230 will modernize our state’s policies on the use of force, implementing the very best practices gathered from across our nation,” CPCA President Ron Lawrence said. “Once both bills are signed and take effect, the real work can begin using the training made available to officers by SB 230 to implement the AB 392 standard.”
Whether SB 230 will become law in addition to AB 392 remains to be seen.
In May, the San Diego City Council voted 6-2 in favor of a resolution supporting the bill. The previous month, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted to oppose the bill.
Both votes came after contentious public hearings and opposition from local law enforcement organizations like the Deputy Sheriffs’ Association of San Diego County and the San Diego Police Officers Association, which argued that law enforcement agencies already have policies designed to keep law enforcement officers in check.
AB 392 passed in the Senate 34-4, with four senators declining to record a vote, while the Assembly approved it 68-0 with 12 assembly members declining to vote.
It will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2020.