SACRAMENTO, Calif. – The governor of California just signed a bill into law that may be one of the most aggressive measures in the country for defining when police can legally use lethal force.
Mayor Gavin Newsom approved Assembly Bill 392 on Monday, and police in California are now fearing for their safety in regards to some of the new rules.
This bill, referred to as ‘Stephon Clark’s Law’, was introduced to regulate police use of deadly force. Though the bill has been amended as it passed its way through the political process, it still fundamentally changes the terms in which police are authorized to kill when they need to.
Some say the bill doesn’t go far enough, but they’ll take what they can get.
“The bill is watered down, everybody knows that,” said Stevante Clark, Stephon Clark’s brother. “But at least we are getting something done. At least we are having the conversation now.”
Stephon Clark was killed by police in 2018 after running from officers who were investigating reports of someone breaking into cars. Investigators said body cam footage and other evidence showed that one of the officers shouted at Clark to show his hands, that they took cover during the incident and that they saw a flash of light that one officer believed was the muzzle flash of a gun and the other thought was light reflecting off a gun.
The case quickly became sensationalized in the media over the topic of race. Investigators did not file formal charges against the officers that were involved.
The new legislation requires that officers exhaust deescalation tactics with their suspects before being legal authorized to enact force.
“This bill would redefine the circumstances under which a homicide by a peace officer is deemed justifiable to include when the officer reasonably believes, based on the totality of the circumstances, that deadly force is necessary to defend against an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury to the officer or to another person, or to apprehend a fleeing person for a 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 the person is immediately apprehended.”
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Of course, any reasonable person would clearly not want police to harm innocent people. But how many times are officers found to be guilty of killing without cause? How many shootings of ‘unarmed black men’ are overblown on social media and in the news, just to later find that the officer was completely justified in their actions? How many times is the cry for ‘justice’ actually just demanding unwarranted vengeance against that cop before the facts are released?
BREAKING: Gov. Newsom has signed AB 392, which creates standards for when police in California can use deadly force. He stood with family members of people killed by police as he signed it, including relatives of Stephon Clark. https://t.co/jLigeCNLgB
— KTLA (@KTLA) August 19, 2019
Democratic assemblywoman Shirley Weber authored the bill.
“This will make a difference not only in California but we know it will make a difference around the world,” she said. “We are doing something today that stretches the boundaries of possibility.”
But is this law going to save lives? Or, as some argue, does it place police officers at further risk of bodily injury or death?
Police officers are often tasked with making a decision within a split-second. Without any time to sit and process what’s happening, they rely on their training and experience to protect themselves, their partners and innocent civilians.
So because of harsher standards over what may be looked at as justified and what may be deemed worse… might an officer pause a moment too long, potentially costing them their life?
The LA Times reported that under the new standard, prosecutors can also consider the actions both of officers and of the victim leading up to a deadly encounter, to determine whether the officer acted within the scope of law, policy and training.
Let’s stop for a moment.
It is easy to look at the totality of circumstances after the fact. Officers have to make a split-second decision. They do not always have access to the totality. This legislation uses vague terminology to the detriment of officers, their safety and their decision-making process.
- READ: THIS OFFICER HAD A JUSTIFIED SHOOTING. NOW HIS DAUGHTER SLEEPS SURROUNDED BY BULLETPROOF VESTS.
Sacramento County Deputy Sheriff Julie Robertson faced this exact scenario last year. She testified how her partner, Mark Stasyuk, died last fall during a gunfight and she hesitated as the suspect shot at her with only his back exposed.
All it takes is that extra moment… and life will never be the same.
“I recall in that moment thinking that if I were to shoot him in the back, I would be the next officer in the news being scrutinized for my actions,” Robertson said. “The thought of having to second-guess my actions in that moment is frightening. This bill makes me wonder if sacrificing everything is worth it.”
Critics on social media said the law still wasn’t strict enough and that officers should “be legally bound to exhaust every alternative to lethal force before they’re allowed to kill.”
‘law enforcement organizations… argued that the “necessary” standard would put officers in danger.’
Call me crazy, but if you think unnecessarily killing people to save your ass is legitimate, you forfeit moral credit for putting your life on the line.https://t.co/9bEABUfoMS
— Alex Birdsall (@gobslapped) July 9, 2019
Others say it stems from a racial issue.
“We’re dealing with a racist society, and we want to hide behind all these other laws and anything else,” Steven Bradford (D-Compton) said. “This is straight about race, and all the training in the world, unless you change your heart and your mind, will not have any effect on how our policing happens in this country.”
Whatever the case, police in California now have new standards for their daily lives – as well as new concerns.
The exact wording in the law changes from “reasonable” cause to use force to “necessary”.
The LA Times said that Stephon Clark’s Law opens the door for prosecutors to look at more factors when making a charging decision, including events leading up to the deadly encounter. But it doesn’t provide clear language on what “necessary” means.
That will be left to prosecutors and courts to decide.