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Gov. Newsom signs landmark police use-of-force bill

Under new law, police may use deadly force only when 'necessary in defense of human life'

California will soon have a tougher new legal standard for the use of deadly force by police, under legislation Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Monday that was inspired by last year's fatal shooting of a young, unarmed man in Sacramento.

Newsom signed the legislation amid unusual fanfare, convening numerous legislators, family members of people who have died in police shootings and advocates including civil-rights leader Dolores Huerta in a courtyard at the Secretary of State's building used in the past for inaugurations and other formal events.

The governor contends that with Assembly Bill 392 in place, police will turn increasingly to de-escalation techniques including verbal persuasion, weapons other than guns and other crisis intervention methods.

"I would hope that if AB 392 had been law last year, that our family would not have to be mourning Christopher's first angelversary today," Barbara Okamoto said in a statement.

Her grandson, Christopher Okamoto, was killed in Bakersfield last Aug. 19, when police responded to a domestic violence call. He had a pellet gun.

The law reflects a compromise between civil-rights advocates who want to limit when police can shoot and law enforcement groups who said earlier versions of the bill would have put officers in danger.

Under the new law, which takes effect January 1, police may use deadly force only when "necessary in defense of human life."

That's a steeper standard than prosecutors apply now, which says officers can shoot when doing so is "reasonable." One of the most significant changes will allow prosecutors to consider officers' actions leading up to a shooting when deciding whether deadly force is justified.

"This will make a difference not only in California, but we know it will make a difference around the world," said Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, the San Diego Democrat who carried the legislation.

The law doesn't go as far as civil libertarians originally proposed and will likely leave it to courts to define what a "necessary" use of force is in future cases. The negotiations led a few early supporters, including the group Black Lives Matter, to drop their support and major statewide law-enforcement organizations to drop their opposition. After a year of contentious testimony over how to reduce police shootings, the final version of the bill sailed through the Legislature with bipartisan support.

Newsom's staff helped broker the compromise, and his signature was not a surprise. In March, after Sacramento's district attorney cleared the officers who killed Stephon Clark in his grandparents' backyard after mistaking the cell phone he was holding for a gun, Newsom signaled support for police reforms that "reinforce the sanctity of human life." And in June, he said he would sign the bill as he praised advocates for "working across their differences" to forge a compromise.

California police kill more than 100 people a year — a rate higher than the national average and highest among states with populations of 8 million or more. Most of the people police kill are armed with a gun or a knife.

But when California police kill people who are not armed, the impact falls disproportionately on Latinos and African Americans. Together, those groups make up 66% of the unarmed people California police killed between 2016 and 2018, but about 46% of the state's population.

For more on California's attempt to reduce police shootings, please listen to CalMatters' Force Of Law podcast. It's available here on Apple Podcasts or here on other podcasting platforms.

CALmatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California's policies and politics. Read more state news from CALmatters here.

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Comments

32 people like this
Posted by MV Resident
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Aug 20, 2019 at 1:18 pm

So what are officers supposed to do? Ask the subject of a domestic violence report whether the gun he is pointing at the officer is real, or a pellet gun?

Cops will never be able to win this kind of duel.

Seems like the new strategy for bad hombres is to always say that their gun is just a pellet gun.


96 people like this
Posted by Insanity
a resident of Monta Loma
on Aug 20, 2019 at 2:40 pm

This is insane. Make the police so worried about PC BS that our safety is now at risk. Like tying one hand behind their back and saying, now go keep everyone safe.

When are people going to WAKE UP to his ridiculous pandering?


68 people like this
Posted by Criminals first
a resident of Bailey Park
on Aug 20, 2019 at 2:52 pm

@ MV Resident - the police are just supposed to hope that the criminals don't blow their head off. And if they do, they should just consider themselves collateral damage because criminals aren't expected to be responsible for keeping themselves alive by abiding by the laws. We're busy teaching criminals that their rights supersede those of all others, including the cops.


57 people like this
Posted by Jake O.
a resident of Rengstorff Park
on Aug 20, 2019 at 2:58 pm

Thank you Gov. Newsom! Because of you, I can sleep easy tonight.

Just kidding


54 people like this
Posted by Registered to vote
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Aug 20, 2019 at 3:32 pm

This is a travesty. I'd expect police departments will have difficulty in recruiting good officers due to this law. As a result we will have less and less law enforcement. We will need to carry and defend ourselves. Wild wild west here we come!!


42 people like this
Posted by Criminals first
a resident of Bailey Park
on Aug 20, 2019 at 3:44 pm

@Registered to Vote- I was thinking the same thing. You'd have to be crazy to be a cop these days. The end result of Black Lives Matter will be more black lives lost to black-on-black crime where cops don't want to intervene.


8 people like this
Posted by Sitting duck
a resident of another community
on Aug 21, 2019 at 1:50 pm

So lemme get this straight... The Democratic People's Republic of Kalifornia wants to eliminate the right to own firearms AND wants to cripple police at the same time?

Sounds like a winning formula... For criminals...


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