Governor Signs Bill Narrowing Instances for Proper Use of Deadly Police Force, Pasadena Chief Will Brief Councilmembers

Published : Tuesday, August 20, 2019 | 5:33 AM

The new bill would apply to officer involved shootings like this one in Northwest Pasadena on May 2, 2019 in which an officer opened fire at a car he had pursued which crashed, spun around, and attempted to drive towards arriving backup officers. Image courtesy City of Pasadena

Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed legislation Aug. 19, changing California’s standard for the use of deadly force so that it must be “necessary” rather than simply “reasonable.”

Wednesday, Pasadena Police Chief John Perez and Chief Assistant City Attorney Javan Rad will brief the City’s Public Safety Committee on what the new bill means for Pasadena.

Local representatives State Sen. Anthony Portantino (D) and Assemblyman Chris Holden (D), both voted in favor of the bill during their respective chamber tallies.

AB 392 changes California law so that police are prohibited from firing on fleeing felons when they pose no immediate danger to the officer or others. That particular statute, Penal Code 196, had not been updated since its enactment in 1872.

The legislation, said Pasadena-based civil rights attorney John Burton, makes California law consistent with federal constitutional law established in Tennessee v. Garner.

That 1985 case determined that a police officer shooting someone amounted to unreasonable seizure under the Fourth Amendment.

Until it was amended by the new law, Penal Code section 835(a) authorized a police officer to use deadly force to arrest someone, or prevent escape, whether or not they pose an imminent threat to the officer or another person.

Important beyond this adjustment of state and federal prerogatives, Burton said, is that the amended 835(a), “may go beyond the consensus on the constitutional standard through this notion that the use of deadly force has to be necessary to stop a threat of imminent death or great bodily injury, as opposed to just a reasonable option.”

In its text, the bill affirmatively prescribes, “the circumstances under which a peace officer is authorized to use deadly force to effect an arrest, to prevent escape, or to overcome resistance.”

Pasadena averages one police shooting a year, according to Burton, so the practical “on the streets” impact of the new law may not be obvious statistically.

“I think its immediate impact will be statewide,” he said, “where we have a lot more shootings than in Pasadena, because it’s sending a message to police in clear language that state law is tracking the constitutional standard of when they cannot use deadly force.”

The Pasadena Police Department’s response will be made during Chief John Perez’s presentation to the Public Safety Committee Aug. 21, according to spokesman Commander Jason Clawson.

The Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriff’s (ALADS) said the standards codified into state law by AB 392 are already practiced by major law enforcement agencies such as Los Angeles and San Francisco,

Law enforcement’s preferred alternative to AB 392 during the legislative process, was SB 230, which avoided amending legislative language regarding force and its legal use, and instead focused on de-escalation training and other types of training aimed at reducing fatalities on service calls.

In the wake of AB 392’s passage, ALADS called for passage SB 230, because of a “dire need for funding” when it comes to such training.

AB 392 is a “necessary step to affirming the sanctity of human life, and protecting human rights,” said the bill’s author, San Diego-area Assemblywoman Shirley Weber (D).

The legislator cited the shooting by Sacramento Police of Stephon Clark in 2018 as the impetus for her legislative drive. The bill, Weber said, changes the culture of policing in California.

“For 400 years, people of color have often had a different kind of justice than others in this nation,” said Weber, “and after 400 years of demonstrating our commitment and our humanity to this nation, we deserve fairness and justice.”

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