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Bill Backed By California Law Enforcement Will Include Reforms Prompted By Stephon Clark Shooting

Ben Adler / Capital Public Radio
Asm. Shirley Weber (D-San Diego), left, the author of AB 392, chats with Assembly Public Safety Committee Chairman Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), on the Assembly floor Thursday.

Just days before a showdown in the California Legislature over when police can use deadly force, law enforcement groups are embracing reforms recommended by Attorney General Xavier Becerra after the Sacramento police shooting of Stephon Clark.

“We’ve taken best practices from some of the more progressive cities and we’ve put them into our bill,” said Sen. Anna Caballero (D-Salinas), the author of a use-of-force bill backed by law enforcement groups that seeks to improve police training while leaving the state’s current legal standard for lethal force in place.

Caballero said the best practices seek to reduce not just deadly force, but also any force. They include de-escalation, implementing “distance, time and place restrictions” on when force can be used, a duty to report excessive use of force by a fellow officer, and requiring that agencies investigate any such reports.

The senator said her planned amendments to SB 230 — which she hopes will be public in the next few days — include “almost every single one” of the attorney general’s recommendations to the Sacramento Police Department earlier this year. Following the Clark shooting in March 2018, Becerra agreed to provide an independent assessment of the department’s policies and training procedures, at the request of Police Chief Daniel Hahn and Mayor Darrell Steinberg.

Caballero said state and local law enforcement agencies will need to include the new statewide policies in their own guidelines.

“Every police department and every agency would have to send their officers back for re-training,” she said Thursday in an interview with CapRadio. “It’s a culture shift. And the goal would be to make sure we have alternatives to deadly use of force” and “use of force in general.”

But for now, at least, she is not requiring a single set of statewide standards for all law enforcement agencies, from California Highway Patrol to university police departments.

“Whether we’ll get to one that everybody has to follow or not remains to be seen,” Caballero said, adding that it’s a question that will be resolved during the legislative process.

Caballero’s news comes just days before a rival bill backed by civil rights advocates and community activists faces its first committee hearing in the Assembly. That measure, AB 392 by Asm. Shirley Weber (D-San Diego), would strengthen the legal standard for when police officers can use deadly force from “reasonable” to “necessary” and is bitterly opposed by law enforcement groups.

Weber’s office declined comment until Caballero’s amendments are in print. The American Civil Liberties Union said Weber’s bill already includes some of Becerra’s key recommendations.

“If Caballero is planning to meaningfully adopt those recommendations, they might as well support AB 392, which we know will work to safely reduce use-of-force incidents, as these recommendations have done in Seattle and San Francisco,” ACLU lobbyist Lizzie Buchen said in a statement.

The California Police Chiefs Association, one of the law enforcement groups working closely with Caballero on the bill, promised to continue to make adjustments “based on input and feedback from experts, policy leaders and community groups.”

“Based on countless conversations and many additional hours of research, we’re working on amendments to SB 230 to ensure that we are truly putting forward the most comprehensive legislative solution to effectively reduce the use of force in our state,” the association’s president, Citrus Heights Police Chief Ron Lawrence, said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Weber is working to line up enough votes from fellow Democrats to move her bill through the Assembly Public Safety Committee, which has scheduled a Tuesday morning hearing.

There’s a sense at the Capitol that enough lawmakers have concerns about AB 392 that, even if it passes the committee vote, it could struggle win approval from the full Assembly in its current form.

Weber said she’s “optimistic” the bill will advance, and that she has not received “any recommendations for major adjustments to the bill that would change it dramatically.”

She said she’s not willing to remove the “necessary” standard — which she called “the crux and the heart of the bill” — but “we are more than willing to talk to folks” about how that standard is defined.

“Hopefully,” Weber said, “once it gets out of committee, others will want to say, ‘OK, let’s talk about it.’”

If the bill passes its committee vote, it will go straight to the Assembly floor. Speaker Anthony Rendon’s office said it will not pull AB 392 into the Appropriations Committee for a fiscal review — a step that often slows, or even derails, legislation.

Copyright 2019 Capital Public Radio