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Governor Newsom Signs Police Use of Force Bill

New Law Says Deadly Force Can Only Be Used When ‘Necessary’

Governor Gavin Newsom | Credit: Paul Wellman

Governor Gavin Newsom on Monday signed a bill that changes the standard by which California police can legally use deadly force in the course of their duties. Newsom signed Assembly Bill 392 surrounded by dozens of family members who had lost loved ones to police violence, including the family of Stephon Clark, who was shot by Sacramento officers last year when they mistook his cell phone for a gun.

The new law says police can use deadly force only when “necessary” to defend against an imminent threat of death or serious injury to officers or bystanders. It also prohibits police from shooting at fleeing felons who don’t pose an immediate danger.

Before AB 392, it was rare for officers to be charged with wrongdoing after a suspicious incident, as prosecutors could only weigh whether the officers felt “reasonable” fear in the moments before the shooting. Now, the actions of both the police and victims leading up to the deadly confrontation can be considered to determine whether the officers acted in accordance with the law and their training.

Both State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson and Assemblymember Monique Limón supported the bill, which goes into effect January 1, 2020. Sheriff Bill Brown and City Police Chief Lori Luhnow were unavailable for comment. Neil Gowing, president of the County Deputy Sheriffs’ Association, had previously told the Lompoc Record his organization was “neutral” toward AB 392, saying it was “definitely a law we can work within.”

Earlier this month, the California Department of Justice released its 2018 Use of Force Report. It tallied nine total incidents in Santa Barbara County in which police discharged a firearm or used force that resulted in serious injury or death. Two of the nine resulted in deaths: Sheriff’s Office deputies shot and killed 43-year-old David McNabb on December 28, 2018, after he allegedly murdered three family members; and Santa Maria police fatally shot 27-year-old Alejandro Valdez on January 7, 2018, after Valdez, in the throes of a mental-health crisis, reportedly threatened officers with a knife.

Statewide, the report counted 628 incidents involving 677 civilians in which use of force resulted in serious bodily injury or death to the suspect or the officer, or the discharge of a police firearm. Of those 677 civilians, 423 were injured, 146 were killed, and 105 were not injured. Officers perceived that 368 civilians were armed; 284 were confirmed to be armed.

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