Probably Won’t Pass, But They Will Try

Police officers are undoubtedly tasked with enormous amounts of responsibility. In addition to knowing the directions to every conceivable place in their city, they must be able to find lost children, stolen bikes and oh yes, catch the occasional bad guy from time to time. Previously, I commented on a bill that is being put forth in the California legislature. This bill is in response to the many controversial police shootings which the nation is wrestling with.

The bill, referred to as Bill 392, seeks to change when an officer is justified in using deadly force against a suspect in California. According to the Sacramento Bee, the current law in California states that officers are justified in using deadly force when they reasonably believe their lives are in danger. The bill seeks to update the wording from “reasonable” to “necessary”. However, a quick check of their Penal Code 196, states that there is already a “necessary” in their law’s wording. I will let the legal experts handle any discrepancies that seem to be present.

The point is that if this bill were to become law, police officers in California may face some serious changes concerning their practices. Not only would officers have to be sure that an object in a suspects hands were actually a gun rather than a cell phone or wallet, they would have to be sure that the suspect was intending to use the weapon to cause deadly or serious physical injury to that officer or another person.

As expected, the bill is facing pushback from some opponnents, such as California’s Fraternal Order of Police (CFOP). They say that the bill would cause hesitation on the part of officers who are going into harm’s way. To be sure, police officers are often going into harm’s way and answering a call that only the brave would answer. I recognize that there is already a level of anxiety in the minds of officers when they put on their uniforms. If passed, this law could have drastic implications for those who don the blue.

There is already settled case law concerning when an officer is justified in using deadly force or the concept surrounding excessive force. However, the California legislature is seeking to further restrict any ambiguity in the officers’ mind. They want there to be a level of certainty that there was a direct threat which needed to be immediately neutralized. This level of “certainty” is what CFOP and others are concerned about. Speaking as a former officer, who faced rapidly evolving events, I can tell you that there is a level of uncertainty in these situations and officers want to live to tell their story.

But let’s keep in mind that citizens want to survive their encounters with police as well. Citizens should not be gunned down by officers who show up to “help” at 3am. A night of drinking, loud noise and complaints by neighbors, followed by complex commands by police armed with long rifles, should not end in tragedy. Nor should driving away from police in an effort to evade capture be a death sentence.  These incidents coupled with the Sacramento PD’s shooting of Stephon Clark are some of the reasons that members of the California legislature put forth their bill.

In this highly charged political atmosphere, there may be a compromise. California’s Senate is also proposing a bill, Senate Bill 230, which would emphasize the importance of training and provide some guidance on the use of force for police agencies throughout the state. I believe that more training is a great step towards bringing the police and the communities they serve closer together. Officers have so much more at their disposal these days; K-9s, O.C, spray, Tasers (electronic defense weapons), impact weapons, bean bags, etc. For our modern day police force, the gun should not be the default weapon every single time.


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