California Lawmakers Pass Bill Aimed At Curbing Deadly Police Shootings

The legislation would raise the standards for police officers' use of force.

The California State Senate passed a bill on Monday that seeks to raise the standard for law enforcement’s use of deadly force, with the goal of reducing fatal police shootings.   

The legislation, Assembly Bill 392, defines the circumstances under which law enforcement can justifiably use deadly force as only when the “officer reasonably believes ... that deadly force is necessary to defend against an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury.”

The bill passed the Senate by a 34-3 vote. It will next go to the desk of Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), who supports the legislation. 

“Police officers should never take a human life when there are alternatives,” Assemblywoman Shirley Weber (D-San Diego), the bill’s co-author, said in remarks on the Assembly floor in late May, before the bill passed that chamber with overwhelming support.

Weber said the bill replaces the “current vague standard” that officers can use deadly force “whenever reasonable” with a stricter standard allowing for deadly force “only when necessary.”

There have been several high-profile deadly police shootings of unarmed black men in California in recent years, including Oscar Grant, who was shot and killed by a Bay Area Rapid Transit officer in 2009, and Stephon Clark, who was fatally shot in his grandmother’s yard in Sacramento last year.

In late May, Black Lives Matter withdrew its support of the bill, pointing to changes in the bill’s language that the group said “significantly weaken” its original provisions, including wording related to raising the standard for police use of force from when “reasonable” to when “necessary.”

Among the changes in the bill’s language were the removal of a written definition of “necessary” and the removal of language requiring officers to use de-escalation tactics.

Stevante Clark, Stephon Clark’s brother, told the Los Angeles Times that, although the bill was “a little watered-down” with the changes made, “slow progress is better than no progress.”

A companion bill, Senate Bill 230, which passed unanimously in the Senate in late May, would require law enforcement agencies statewide to have uniform guidelines on the use of force and give officers regular training on the use of force and its alternatives, including de-escalation.

This article has been updated to reflect the final vote count in the state Senate.