California's effort to restrict police use of force hits a wall

In yet another swipe at the police, California is currently working on a bill which would alter the circumstances under which law enforcement officers may resort to the use of lethal force when confronting suspects. This is a very popular idea with the social justice crowd on the left coast, but it’s unclear how much of an actual, practical effect it would have on day to day policing. Still, law enforcement officials are definitely pushing back against the plan. (Sacramento Bee)

Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday advanced a proposal that would restrict the circumstances under which California police officers could use deadly force. Assembly Bill 931, which would raise the standard for lethal use of force from “reasonable” to “necessary,” passed the Senate Public Safety Committee on an initial vote of 5-1.

It was the first hearing for the controversial measure, which has raised sharp objections from law enforcement groups that contend it would put officers’ lives in danger. Under the bill, deadly force could only be justified if there were no reasonable alternatives.

“We ask officers to run toward danger and sacrifice their safety,” Cory Salzillo of the California State Sheriffs’ Association said. It would be “unfair” to ask them to do so when an after-the-fact analysis might undermine their actions in the field, he added.

Rarely do you see such contention over a change to a single word, that’s pretty much what the bill boils down to. When can officers draw their weapons and fire? The current standard (applied over most of the country) is that lethal force encounters are triggered if the officer has “reasonable fear” for either their own safety or the lives of others. The new standard would mandate that lethal force only be deployed when “necessary.” I can see how the cops might find this unsettling (and they are opposing the bill across the board) but part of me wonders if this isn’t a distinction without a difference.

If the officer is in one of those split-second situations where they have to decide whether or not to open fire, and they believe either they or some passing citizen may be about to be killed or injured, wouldn’t lethal force be “necessary?” I’m just trying to imagine a scenario where any other reasonable officer would respond in the same fashion but, in hindsight, it could be found as unnecessary. After scratching my head over this one for a while I’m not getting it.

There’s probably more to this debate than an honest discussion of the use of force, however. As Fox News reports, one of the state senators involved in the debate could only view the question through the lens of racism.

“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.”

We could dredge up yet again the statistics showing the cops in the United States actually shoot more white people than minorities (though it’s a larger share of black suspects on a per capita basis), so they aren’t “only fearing for their lives when facing black and brown people,” but that argument has long since become tiresome.

The main point here is whether or not current standards prevent needless lethal force encounters while allowing officers to keep themselves and the public safe. California’s elected representatives seem to think the answer to that question is no. The cops disagree. And if the state government keeps passing measures like this and the police feel that the state government doesn’t have their backs, how long will they continue doing their jobs to the best of their ability? Tough questions for California to wrestle with.