A new law could make California the first state to place stronger restrictions on when police can kill suspects.
Assembly Bill 931 — which has yet to be formally introduced — would make it easier to charge officers who shoot civilians by making two changes to existing law.
First, officers could use deadly force only if it was necessary to prevent imminent severe bodily harm or death. The change would allow prosecutors to take into account whether officers attempted to de-escalate the situation.
Second, the bill would allow prosecutors to look at prior actions taken by officers that could have placed them in harm’s way.
Lawmakers hope to encourage officers to try and reduce or de-escalate confrontations or use less deadly weapons.
“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.
“We should no longer be the target practice or victims of a shoot first, ask questions later police force,” said former Pasadena City Councilmen and current state Assemblyman Chris Holden, who is also the chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus.
Under the recommended changes, at least one high-profile Pasadena case could have resulted in charges against a Pasadena police officer. In 2012, Officer Jeffrey Newlen violated policy by leaving a police cruiser to pursue unarmed teen Kendrec McDade without communicating with his partner Matthew Griffin. The pair believed McDade was armed due to a call by a man who believed his briefcase was stolen from his car.
After McDade reportedly turned and ran toward the car, Griffin opened fire, followed by Newlen who believed that it was McDade shooting. An independent probe later ruled the officers violated policy several times during the shooting.
The city settled the case for just more than $1 million.
Law enforcement groups said the bill could jeopardize officers who are forced to make split-second decisions.
“If the bill becomes law, it will either get cops killed or allow criminals to terrorize our streets unchecked,” said Craig Lally, president of the Los Angeles Protective League, the union that represents rank and file police officers.
“It’s one thing to criticize from your keyboard or from behind a microphone at a press conference; it’s another to actually work in the very real and dangerous world of policing.”