What Cali’s AB 392 Really Means

In another blog post, I stated that I did not believe that California’s attempts to curb police shootings against its citizens would pass. I’m generally in favor of strong unions which stand behind their membership and fight for their rights. However, in many cases, particularly with police unions they often stray off target and stand up for people and rights which are antithetical to the mission of the police departments.

AB 392 came to prominence after the controversial shooting of Stephon Clark in 2018. This officer-involved shooting sparked protest and brought more national attention to yet another case of a police shooting of an unarmed man. Now, here I can feel the collective eye roll of many officers who say things like, “he was a criminal”, or “he should have surrendered”. Officers and civilians must understand that the primary role of police officers is to protect and serve. Remember that phrase that is written on the side of patrol vehicles? Occasionally, the persons who need protection are the actual perpetrators of crimes. Yes, suspects who break into cars and then flee from police are included in the “community”. And of course, they should not be committing crimes nor running from the police in the first place. Being let down by society, rejecting the teaching of parents, or dropping out of school and embracing a life of crime doesn’t mean that they are lost and destined to be gunned down by the state.

I do not know the criminal or mental history of Clark, nor do I think that it matters. What is clear to me is that officers have something valuable on their side when attempting to bring a suspect in custody. That special weapon is time. Having cornered Clark in a back yard and left him with no place to go, why not wait him out? Why not call a K-9 or use bean bags, or pepper spray? There are so many tools in an officer’s tool belt which can be employed rather than resorting to the gun.

The new law which was signed by California’s governor changes the standard from what a reasonable officer would do to employing deadly force only when “necessary”. This change in standard, while a step in the right direction for taking suspects into custody, is far from what the lawmakers had in mind when they originally crafted the bill. Pressure from pro-police groups who were looking to make sure that their officers do not hesitate when considering when to pull the trigger when faced with potentially life-threatening circumstances watered down the bill. This, of course, is the opinion of hardliners who desperately want police reform, especially concerning officer-involved shootings (OIS). I do not wish to downplay the emotional and mental considerations which come into play when officers answer a 9-1-1 call or pull over a darkly tinted vehicle with unknown occupants for running a stop sign.

The original bill wished to include language demanding that officers employ less-lethal methods prior to going straight to the gun. However, concessions from both pro-police and members of the legislature got them to the point where they are today. The lawmakers, however, did not give a definition of what “necessary” actually means. I suspect that this was done intentionally in order not to box officers or prosecutors into corners when considering training, policy or whether charges should be filed against an officer.

Part of the consideration that pro-police groups were having is with the harsh language of “necessary”. For those who listen to Capt. Hunter’s Podcast, I detailed one reason why opposition to this change in California’s standard won’t fly. In the episode titled “Police Training in Other Countries” I laid out the fact that in Europe, officers are guided by the European Convention on Human Rights. That document ensures that officers operate on a higher plane when considering the use of deadly force towards its citizens. Therefore I’m in agreement that the standard of necessity, is the standard that officers living in a civil society should be operating under.

Unfortunately, as previously mentioned, the lawmakers have not defined “necessary” for the officers. It will be the courts who are left with disentangling this mess, should the day ever arise. Until then I hope officers take caution when performing their duties, take their oaths seriously and understand that time is on their side and every person who breaks into a car or has a wallet in their hand in a dark alley isn’t worthy of death.

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