Opinion: Overhauling police use of force in California

The debate over how to safely reduce police use of force in California must be grounded in facts, not driven by emotion

By Ron Hernandez and Robert Harris

We are currently witnessing a tale of two bills in California regarding police use of force. The approaches are as different as night and day. One approach is grounded in emotion and seeks to score political points by throwing officers in jail when they use force during life and death situations. The other is grounded in sound policy and science, which seeks to reduce all uses of force by preventing them from occurring in the first place through stronger policies and improved training.

Assembly Bill 392

The ACLU and California Assemblywoman Shirley Weber are taking the politicization of officer-involved shootings to new heights with their bill, AB 392.
The ACLU and California Assemblywoman Shirley Weber are taking the politicization of officer-involved shootings to new heights with their bill, AB 392. (Photo/PoliceOne)

The ACLU and California Assemblywoman Shirley Weber are taking the politicization of officer-involved shootings to new heights with their bill, AB 392.

The ACLU wants to eliminate the reasonable standard that governs the legality of officer-involved shootings that was established by the Supreme Court in Graham v. Connor. They want to replace it with a necessary standard and apply a totality of circumstances lens to look at these incidents.

What does this mean? Essentially, under current U.S. Constitutional law, if an officer pulls someone over and the driver pulls a gun on the officer or others, then the officer may use deadly force to protect themselves and others. Under the ACLU’s bill, that officer would lose their right to self-defense if it is later determined the officer could have deployed a TASER, not pursued the fleeing bank robber or could’ve retreated out of the way. Furthermore, the officer can lose their right to self-defense if its determined that the officer lacked probable cause for a stop, regardless of the threat presented. It’s ridiculous.

To sell the bill, the ACLU has deployed a well-orchestrated disinformation campaign. The organization claims there is an epidemic of police violence in California, yet according to the Washington Post’s Fatal Force Database fatal officer-involved shootings have declined 40% since 2015. The ACLU and their supporters repeat over and over that California is 37% above the national average for fatal officer-involved shootings. In fact, according to the Washington Post data, California is 5.43% below the national average.

Senate Bill 230

On the other hand, top law enforcement associations in California are working with State Senator Anna Caballero on SB 230, a bill grounded in science, facts and data. SB 230 is an essential component of a comprehensive plan to reduce uses of force.

SB 230 will establish a clear standard for authorizing the use of force, standardizes use of force training and enacts evidence-based policies to minimize uses of force. For example, SB 230 mandates that all California law enforcement agencies adopt policies, and train on, de-escalation, managing mental health crisis situations and requiring an officer to intercede if they witness the use of excessive force.

SB 230 incorporates best practices from jurisdictions that have seen improvements in reducing uses of force. It provides public safety officers the necessary tools to safely do their jobs. But our collective goal ought to be to prevent as many dangerous encounters as possible and a new organization has been formed to do just that.

A holistic approach to crime reduction

Protect California, a non-profit organization, is committed to taking a more holistic approach to crime reduction and neighborhood safety. The organization’s plan addresses the root causes of crime by pulling virtually every public policy lever available to ensure positive outcomes between public safety officers and the community by:

  • Creating economic and educational opportunities in communities disproportionately impacted by crime and poverty;
  • Adequately funding the delivery of treatment and services for those diagnosed with mental illness;
  • Making sure convicted felons and those with diagnosed mental illness do not have access to guns;
  • Equipping public safety officers with the necessary tools and training to safely respond to and manage dangerous situations and individuals with mental illness.

The debate over how best to safely reduce police use of force and make California neighborhoods safer is an important one. It’s one that must be grounded in facts and not driven by emotion. We can all agree the best outcome to any use of force is to prevent the dangerous encounter before it occurs. To learn more about the plan to protect California go to www.ProtectCA.com.

About the authors
Ron Hernandez is treasurer of Protect California and president of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs.

Robert Harris is president of Protect California and a director with the Los Angeles Police Protective League.

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