SACRAMENTO, Cali. – It’s no secret that states across the country are aiming to revisit or even revoke when police can use deadly force.
But it does come as a surprise to see how law enforcement groups in California are looking at the recent changes in policy. Where most law enforcement officials have opposed the new changes to the law, fearing that it would increase line of duty deaths, these organizations are going along for the ride.
On Thursday, major LE organizations in California dropped their opposition to the proposed changes in deadly force authorization.
So what does that mean for officers on the job?
The measure would ban police from issuing lethal force unless it is “necessary” to defend against an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury to officers or bystanders. It began with public controversy over fatal police shootings, and has evolved to written law.
It’s unclear why the organizations dropped their opposition to the bill, but changes in the written resolution may hold the answer.
The previous bill said that officers could open fire when there is “no reasonable alternative.” The language was then changed to “necessary”.
The Manteca Bulletin wrote that the amended measure, however, makes it clear that officers are not required to retreat or back down in the face of a suspect’s resistance and officers don’t lose their right to self-defense if they use “objectively reasonable force.”
Before the bill was amended, it contained verbiage about specifically requiring officers to utilize de-escalation tactics before issuing deadly force. That part is now removed, however, courts will be still allowed to consider the officer’s actions leading up to the use of force.
Peter Bibring is the police practices director for the American Civil Liberties Union of California, which proposed the bill and then negotiated the new changes.
“The courts can still consider whether officers needlessly escalated a situation or failed to use de-escalation tactics that could have avoided a shooting,” he said.
Others are saying that the bill essentially makes no changes.
“The language is virtually legally synonymous with current constitutional standards for use of force. It really is a distinction without a legal difference,” said Ed Obayashi, a use-of-force consultant to police departments.
Across most states, current law dictates that officers can use deadly force in situations where they have a ‘reasonable’ fear for their lives or the lives of others. Obviously, a personal feeling like that is up to a great deal of debate. Did an officer make the right call? Or, if they had waited, would they still be alive right now?
These are often the questions that follow police involved shootings and line of duty deaths. Because the current law is so open to interpretation, most officers who are involved in these situations do not face criminal punishment.
Lawmakers in California have been pushing for legal recourse against officers who wrongfully take a suspect’s life.
“With so many unnecessary deaths, I think everyone agrees that we need to change how deadly force is used in California,” said Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, who initially wrote the measure. “We can now move a policy forward that will save lives and change the culture of policing in California.”
How will this effect officers in the streets? We’ll have to wait and see.