Published : Wednesday, April 4, 2018 | 3:37 PM
Pasadena Assemblymember Chris Holden is one of several state lawmakers who support legislation to restrict when officers can open fire—a measure currently being proposed in California, according to the Associated Press.
“We should no longer be the target practice or victims of a shoot first, ask questions later police force,” said Holden, who is also a chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus.
Some state lawmakers and the family of Stephon Clark, a 22-year-old unarmed black man fatally shot by police in Sacramento on March 18, are heading up a new measure. If it flies, California could become the first state in the U.S. to significantly restrict when cops can open fire and would change the norm from using “reasonable force” to “necessary force.”
This means police would be allowed to shoot only if “there were no other reasonable alternatives to the use of deadly force to prevent imminent serious injury or death,” said Lizzie Buchen, legislative advocate for the American Civil Liberties Union, which is one of the groups behind the idea, according to the AP.
“We need to ensure that our state policy governing the use of deadly force stresses the sanctity of human life and is only used when necessary,” said Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, a San Diego Democrat who introduced the bill.
Lawmakers hope to encourage officers to try to reduce or disable confrontations or use less deadly weapons, said Democratic Assemblyman Kevin McCarty of Sacramento, who is co-authoring the legislation.
However, there are some in the law enforcement circles who said the proposal is “irresponsible and unworkable.”
Ed Obayashi, a Plumas County Sheriff’s deputy and a special prosecutor who trains officers and testifies in court on ways police use force, believes officers already use deadly force only when necessary and are taught to try to defuse dangerous situations when they can.
Altering legal protections for police could make it harder to hire recruits. It could also make the job more dangerous, because police may be hesitant when confronting an armed suspect threatening not only themselves but bystanders, Obayashi said.
Spokesmen for the California Police Chiefs Association and California State Sheriffs’ Association said they had not seen the proposal and were not yet able to comment.
A few black community leaders hailed the measure as “a good first step.”
California’s current standard makes it a rare occurrence for police to be charged following a shooting and rarer still for them to be convicted, because of the doctrine of reasonable fear. If prosecutors or jurors believe that officers have a reason to fear for their safety, they can use force—up to and including lethal force.
That standard “gives very broad discretion for using deadly force,” said Buchen. “It doesn’t mean there has to have been a threat. If a reasonable officer could have perceived a threat and responded with deadly force, then it’s legal.”
The proposed measure could require officers to delay confronting a suspect they fear may be armed until backup arrives, or to give explicit verbal warnings that the suspect will be killed unless he or she drops the weapon and officers may also have to first engage in de-escalation techniques or try non-lethal weapons if possible before shooting, she said.