Some Californians are looking to limit when law enforcement can employ 'deadly force.' Others ensured their taking of lives stays a semantic game.
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The legislation emerged from a push for new rules in response to police killings of unarmed black men such as Stephon Clark, who was shot last year after a police chase that ended in his grandmother's backyard. The officers in that shooting said they believed Clark had a gun; he was found to have been holding a cellphone, and prosecutors said in March that the officers would not face criminal charges.
The new law reflects a compromise between civil rights advocates who say it will save lives and law enforcement groups that want more clarity on the use of force — but do not want to undermine legal protections for officers.
"The whole debate boils down to two words: 'necessary' and 'reasonable,' " Ben Adler of Capital Public Radio reports. "Right now, deadly force is justified if a reasonable officer would have acted similarly in that situation. So in other words, what a typical officer would have done based on his or her training. When the law takes effect in January, that standard will change to when the officer reasonably believes deadly force is necessary."
But Adler also notes that the law mostly avoids offering a specific definition of "necessary" — a move that is widely seen as leaving the interpretation up to the courts, where judges will weigh what is "necessary" in the context of officers' use of force.