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New California Law Tightens Rules for When Police Can Use Deadly Force

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California State Assemblymember Shirley Weber (D-San Diego) speaks during a news conference to announce new legislation to address recent deadly police shootings on April 3, 2018 in Sacramento, California.
California state Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, speaks during a news conference to announce new legislation to address recent deadly police shootings on April 3, 2018 in Sacramento, California. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Families of people shot and killed by police officers are applauding the signing of Assembly Bill 392 Monday by Governor Gavin Newsom. It aims to further restrict when officers can use deadly force.

Supporters say California’s new use of force law will be one of the toughest in the country. It states law enforcement can only use deadly force when “necessary,” rather than just “reasonable.”

Democratic Assemblywoman Shirley Weber authored the measure. She said the families of victims were passionate about strengthening the law.

How a Deadly Shooting Prompted a Law

“It has been an eye-opener for me,” she said. “Because I understood, somewhat, their pain. But I never knew how deep and how permanent that pain was because they lack justice.”

Weber has worked on the issue for several years. She revived an earlier version of her bill following the 2018 Sacramento police shooting death of Stephon Clark, an unarmed black man who was standing in his grandparents’ backyard.

Law enforcement had fiercely opposed the bill, but moved to a neutral position after several amendments were made giving officers more leeway. For instance a section requiring officers to use other tactics before employing deadly force was removed.


Skeptics point to those changes as evidence of the bill being watered down. Governor Newsom said while it’s remarkable such a controversial bill has been signed into law, he acknowledged it’s a small step.

“It means nothing unless we make this moment meaningful,” he said. “That’s the goal and desire of all of us, law enforcement and members of the community. To address these issues in a more systemic way. And that’s going to take a lot more work than passing a piece of legislation and having the governor sign it.”

Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg was also on hand for the signing. He was mayor when Clark was shot and said he doesn’t know if AB 392 would have prevented Clark’s death. And he said no one law can fix the all challenges facing law enforcement and communities of color.

“But I am confident that AB 392 will, be definition, save lives,” he said. “The incentives and the legal standards will discourage the kinds of confrontations that too often end in tragedy.

Police Secrets Unsealed

Law enforcement officials are backing another measure, Senate Bill 230, which would require the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training to develop and implement training and guidelines on use of force.

“Together, AB 392 and SB 230 will modernize our state’s policies on the use of force, implementing the very best practices gathered from across our nation,” said Ron Lawrence, President of the California Police Chiefs Association in a statement.

AB 392 will take effect in January.

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