On Monday, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed assembly bill 392 into law. It’s the first change to the policy since it was implemented in 1872.
California police officers are now only allowed to use deadly force when “necessary” under the law. The previous policy defined it as when “reasonable.”
“Most of the time you don’t have a lot of time to deliberate, you have to make split-second decisions,” said Sheriff Jon Lopey, Siskiyou Co. Sheriff’s Office.
Sheriff Lopey says the legislation was heavily influenced by the death of Stephon Clark, a black man shot and killed by police in Sacramento in March of 2018.
Officers believed the cellphone he was holding was a gun.
“You know, he thrust that cell phone in the dark towards the officers. He refused to submit to arrest and you can argue… well, they thought he had a gun in the dark what they did was objectively reasonable,” he said.
In a high-stress situation, Sheriff Lopey says law enforcement needs to have the tools and support to protect themselves and other people.
He says changing the law from “reasonable” to “necessary” could hinder that.
“It could put officers or deputies or detectives in a difficult position because then they have to, in their mind, have confidence they are going to get support when they use force,” he said.
In addition to safety concerns, Sheriff Lopey says the legislation could open his agency and others to more civil suits. But when it comes to how the legislation will affect the agency day to day, he says they will adapt to it and do their best to comply.
“Potentially you’re placing police officers in a difficult situation and they can be harmed as a result of this because hesitating is not good in this profession,” he said.
The bill passed the California legislature with bipartisan support.
Supporters, like the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, say the law previously gave “cover” to police shootings that could have been avoided.
In an online statement, the organization wrote:
“police officers are rarely held accountable for bad shootings and little is done to prevent more shootings from happening.”
Amanda Rose is a multimedia journalist for NBC5 News. Amanda graduated from Columbia University earning a Master’s degree in Journalism. She also received a Bachelor’s degree in English with a specialization in literature from the University of British Columbia. She’s a Los Angeles native, but is thrilled to return to the beautiful Pacific Northwest and is passionate about reporting on the criminal justice system.