California Passes One of Nation’s Strictest Deadly Force Guidelines

By Shani Saxon Aug 20, 2019

California Governor Gavin Newsom (D) on Monday (August 19) signed legislation that raises the standard for when police officers in the state can use deadly force, CNN reports. The measure is one of the strictest in the country, mandating that police can only use lethal force when it’s “necessary to defend against an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury to the officer or to another person.” Assembly Bill 392: The California Act to Save Lives (AB 392) will also require courts to consider if an officer’s behavior was justified leading up to the use of deadly force.

Per CNN, California state law previously allowed officers to use lethal force “when attempting to arrest someone or when preventing them from escaping.” AB 392, which goes into effect on January 1, 2020, and was introduced by Assemblymember Shirley Weber (D-San Diego), seeks to save lives. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, research shows that “police officers in cities with stricter use of force standards kill fewer people and are less likely to be injured or killed themselves.”

In an emailed statement, the ACLU celebrated the bill’s passage as a huge win for California and the rest of the country: “AB 392 is already shaping national policy discussions.”

Barbara Okamoto, whose grandson Christopher Okamoto was killed by police on August 19, 2018, spoke to the ACLU about the victory. “I would hope that if AB 392 had been law last year, that our family would not have to be mourning Christopher’s first angelversary today,” she said. “I’m hopeful AB 392 will help make sure other families don’t have to go through what we had to go through this part year. It’s long overdue: officers’ gun is not their only option, they have many more options that they should use instead of taking someone’s life. They must stop killing our loved ones.” 

Newsom appeared on CNN's “Newsroom” to talk about the bill. “(The legislation is) important because we can’t accept the status quo. The idea that over 100 people—162 people in 2017—were killed in police shootings in the state of California is unacceptable. It’s not good for law enforcement and it’s certainly not good for individuals in the communities that have been disproportionately impacted.”

Miguel Quezada, whose uncle was killed by Modesto police in 2002, also contributed to the ACLU’s emailed statement. “This bill is definitely a community win, but the hard work is in making sure that it is implemented properly,” he said. “We need to continue to strengthen the spirit and intent of this bill to honor those whose lives were stolen, as well as their families.”