Shared from the 4/4/2018 Houston Chronicle eEdition

Proposal would limit when Calif. police can shoot

‘Necessary’ force suggested; cops wary of change

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Several lawmakers and the family of a22-year-old unarmed black man who was fatally shot by police proposed Tuesday that California become the first state to significantly restrict when officers can open fire.

The legislation would change the standard from using “reasonable force” to “necessary force.”

That means officers would be allowed to shoot only if “there were no other reasonable alternatives to the use of deadly force” to prevent imminent serious injury or death, said Lizzie Buchen, legislative advocate for the American Civil Liberties Union, which is among the groups behind the measure.

“We need to ensure that our state policy governing the use of deadly force stresses the sanctity of human life and is only used when necessary,” said Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, a San Diego Democrat who introduced the bill. “Deadly force can be used, but only when it is completely necessary.”

The goal is to encourage officers to try to defuse confrontations or use less deadly weapons, said Democratic Assemblyman Kevin McCarty of Sacramento, who is co-authoring the legislation.

“We should no longer be the target practice or victims of a shoot first, ask questions later police force,” said Assemblyman Chris Holden, chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus.

But some in law enforcement called the proposal irresponsible and unworkable.

Officers already use deadly force only when necessary and are taught to try to defuse dangerous situations first when possible, said Ed Obayashi, a Plumas County sheriff’s deputy and special prosecutor who trains officers and testifies in court on police use of force.

Tinkering with legal protections for police could make it more difficult to hire officers and be dangerous because they may hesitate when confronting an armed suspect, threatening themselves and bystanders, Obayashi said.

Spokesmen for the California Police Chiefs Association and California State Sheriffs’ Association said they had not seen the proposal and could not comment.

Two Sacramento officers chased Clark, who was suspected of breaking into cars, into his grandparents’ darkened backyard and opened fire within seconds and without identifying themselves as police because they said they thought he had a gun. Investigators found only a cellphone.

Changing the legal standard might mean that more people confronted by police “could go home. They may be able to wake up” the next day, said Clark’s uncle, family spokesman Curtis Gordon.

“A life may be saved in that blink” of time before officers open fire, he said. “If you feel some sort of repercussion, you may act a little more cautiously.”

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