California’s Democratic governor on Monday approved one of the the strictest police deadly force measures in the country, which says officers in the state can only use lethal force if it would prevent a suspect from killing or harming the officer or another person.
State law previously allowed the use of extreme force when attempting to arrest someone or prevent them from escaping. The law comes as Democratic and progressive lawmakers and activists in the state look for ways to rein in police following the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man in Sacramento last year.
“(The legislation is) important because we can’t accept the status quo. The idea that over 100 people – 162 people in 2017 – were killed in police shootings in the state of California is unacceptable. It’s not good for law enforcement and it’s certainly not good for individuals in the communities that have been disproportionately impacted,” Gov. Gavin Newsom told CNN’s Van Jones in an interview that aired on “Newsroom.”
“I just can’t sit by and watch another 100 human beings – another 150 human beings lose their lives to excessive force,” added Newsom, who described the measure as being “profoundly significant.”
The legislation, which cleared the California state Senate last month and was passed by the state’s assembly in late May, says when possible, officers must use “other available resources and techniques” to address threats instead of using deadly force. Its approval raises California’s deadly force standard to one of the highest in the nation.
The measure’s final hurdle was cleared nearly six months after a prosecutor in Sacramento announced she would not be filing charges against two police officers who killed Stephon Clark, an unarmed black man who was fatally shot in his grandmother’s backyard last year. Officers killed Clark after chasing him to the backyard; the prosecutor later described Clark as taking a shooting stance and officers firing after they saw a flash of light that one believed came from a gun. A cell phone was found underneath Clark’s body.
The case reflected and further strained relations between the police and the community as well as racial tensions in the state capital and inspired the bill’s writing.
Clark’s death “just ignited a new resolve with a new administration (with) a fresh set of eyes and a desire to say, ‘you know what, we’re better than this,’” Newsom said. The governor did not say whether he believes the proposed changes would have had prevented Clark’s death.
Geoffrey Alpert, a professor of criminology at the University of South Carolina and an expert on use of force, told CNN on Monday that while he supports the legislation, an emphasis should be placed on officers’ training and what options they have when faced with a potentially dangerous situation.
“The thing police have to do is really dig into the training, dig into the scenarios and make sure officers know how to respond,” Alpert said. He added that based on the law’s language, it will be the “strongest” in the country, but that “time will tell what it means” and it could face legal challenges.
Several California police groups, including the Los Angeles Police Protective League, Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Employees’ Benefit Association and Protect California praised the move by Newsom, saying the new standards “emphasize de-escalation of volatile situations and a reverence for life.”
In a separate joint statement, the California Police Chiefs Association, the Peace Officers Research Association of California and the California Association of Highway Patrolmen said the success of the new law “hinges on the passage” of a bill in the state legislature that would provide funding for law enforcement tools and more police training.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California also welcomed the new law, with Peter Bibring, an attorney for the group, telling CNN that the measure “is about a simple rule – police shouldn’t take a life if they have other alternatives.”
CNN’s Cheri Mossburg, Ray Sanchez, Sonya Hamasaki, Steve Almasy and Dan Simon contributed to this report.