Sun | Sep 15, 2019

California governor signs law to limit shootings by police

Published:Tuesday | August 20, 2019 | 9:53 AM
Supporters of a bill limiting the police use of deadly force surround Gov. Gavin Newsom, center, during a signing ceremony in Sacramento, Calif., Monday, August 19, 2019. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

SACRAMENTO, California (AP) — Spurred by the fatal police shooting of a young unarmed black man that roiled California’s capital city, state lawmakers approved changes to the nation’s oldest law governing when officers can use deadly force and it was signed by the governor Monday, though even supporters aren’t sure it will save many lives.

“It’s an open-ended question,” Governor Gavin Newsom said after adding his signature to the bill during a ceremony in an open courtyard to hold the crowd of legislators, family members of those killed in police shootings and advocates, many of them black or Latino.

“This is remarkable to get to this moment on a bill that was so controversial, but it means nothing unless we make this moment meaningful.”

Supporters and law enforcement officials said the new standards, which take effect January 1, are among the nation’s most comprehensive when combined with more police training.

But they must be coupled, Newsom said, with cultural and systemic changes, including more transparency and a rebuilding of trust with the community.

California’s old standard made it rare for police officers to be charged following a shooting and rarer still for them to be convicted.

It was based on the doctrine of “reasonable fear,” meaning if prosecutors or jurors believed officers had a reason to fear for their safety, they could use lethal force.

The new law will allow police to use deadly force only when “necessary” to defend against an imminent threat of death or serious injury to officers or bystanders.

Lawmakers dropped an explicit definition of “necessary” that said officers could use maximum force only when there was “no reasonable alternative.”

They also removed an explicit requirement that officers try to de-escalate confrontations.

Law enforcement officials said that would have opened officers to endless second-guessing of what often are split-second, life-and-death decisions.

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