Two bills that seek to limit the use of force by law enforcement officers in California have drawn criticism from police and elected officials alike.
Under Assembly Bill 392, police would only be allowed to use deadly force in self defense, defense of another person of when necessary to prevent the escape of a fleeing felon who poses a threat of death or serious injury to the public.
AB 392 would also ban the use of this defense if the officer acted in a criminally negligent manner, including if the officer’s criminal negligence created the necessity for the use of deadly force.
California State Senate Bill 230, would allow police to use deadly force if the officer reasonably believes the suspect poses an imminent threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others, or when a fleeing suspect has committed a “forcible and atrocious felony.”
SB 230 would also require law enforcement agencies in California to maintain policies that include guidelines on the use of force, using de-escalation techniques and other alternatives to force when feasible, guidelines on the use of deadly force and factors for reviewing all use-of-force incidents.
SB 230 would also require the agencies to make their use-of-force policies accessible to the public, and encourage them to adopt uniform minimum guidelines.
Assemblyman Heath Flora (R-Ripon) called the AB 392 “a disaster,” saying that the restrictions it would impose could lead to officers losing their lives if they hesitate when the use of deadly force may be necessary.
The restrictions AB 392 seeks to impose could also cause officer to not pursue or confront a dangerous suspect as they may not feel they would be allowed to use force if they need to, Flora said.
“They’re just going to walk away because it’s not worth losing their lives over,” Flora said.
Although the issue is “very emotional” with passionate supporters and opponents, Flora said state legislators have been working to change the language of AB 392 to alleviate some of its opponents’ concerns.
“If we can keep everybody at the table and reach a decision that everybody can agree with, there is a way forward,” Flora said.
State Senator Cathleen Galgiani, one of the co-authors of SB 230, could not be reached for comment.
While he acknowledged the importance of reviewing use-of-force policies, Lodi Police Chief Tod Patterson worries that the bills, if passed, could place unnecessary restrictions on his officers and cause them to hesitate in situations where lethal force may be needed.
“I’m just concerned in looking at these that we are going to cause some officers to lose their lives, and possibly some citizens,” Patterson said. “I think there are things that we need to look at, but we have to be careful about handcuffing law enforcement by causing them not to react or to stall in the way they react when a lethal situation is in front of them.”
As the use of force by police officers often involves a “split-second decision,” Patterson invited anyone who is interested to try his department’s use of force simulator during their open house on May 5.
“I think it would better educate them when they look at something like this,” Patterson said.
Matthew Palaita, 35, was the last person shot and killed by Lodi police when in October 2017 police said he exited the back seat of a vehicle and aimed a handgun at officers during a traffic stop in the area of North Pleasant Avenue and West Turner Road. The San Joaquin County District Attorney’s Office has not yet made video footage of the shooting available to the public.