California is seeking to change the standard when police officers can use deadly force under new legislation that cleared its first hurdle Tuesday.
Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, a San Diego Democrat, introduced the new measure, saying now is the time to amend a “reasonable force standard” that hasn’t been updated in the state since 1872. "It must be guided by the goals of safeguarding human life," she said during a Statehouse debate in Sacramento.
A state Senate committee advanced a plan that would let police officers open fire only in situations of imminent and serious injury or possible death to the officer or another person.
This would change the existing standard of “reasonable fear” where police can use the deadly force if the officers believe they have reason to fear for their safety.
The new legislation comes amid criticism that police officers have rarely faced consequences for shooting someone for disputed reasons.
California is still reeling from the March 18 killing of Stephon Clark, who was shot by Sacramento police after officers mistook his cellphone for a handgun.
But pro-law enforcement groups are arguing that the new standard could have a detrimental impact on the officers’ ability to ensure public safety as it may make them hesitant to approach suspects out of fear of being unable to defend themselves.
David Mastagni, a lobbyist for the California Peace Officers Association, said the proposed language in the bill creates "a hindsight, second-guessing game that puts not only the officers at danger but puts the public at danger as well."
Randy Perry, who represents several rank-and-file police unions that include 90,000 officers, called it "a radical departure from criminal and constitutional law."
Democrats on the committee admitted that law enforcement officers face difficulties and danger on the job, but insisted the proposed initiative would make everyone safe as it would promote de-escalation and foster trust between police and minorities in the state.
"It always blows me away when law enforcement only fear for their life only when they're facing black and brown people," said state Sen. Steven Bradford, D-Gardena. "We don't have a problem with law enforcement, we've got a problem with racism."
"It always blows me away when law enforcement only fear for their life only when they're facing black and brown people. We don't have a problem with law enforcement, we've got a problem with racism."
State Sen. Jeff Stone, R-Temecula, was the only state lawmaker who spoke out against the proposed changes, echoing the claims made by pro-police groups about officers becoming less likely to respond to calls for help.
Still, most lawmakers agreed that the standard of the police use of force should be amended in a bid to protect the public safety.
"We all agree that we don't want to put police officers in harm's way, but we also don't want to put the public in harm's way," state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, said.
The measure now heads to another committee.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.