Scrutiny of Police Use-of-Force Law Builds

Public Safety

Scrutiny of Police Use-of-Force Law Builds

Scrutiny is emerging over whether the compromises that secured the unions’ support went too far, and made the bill less effective.

Police officers block off Fourth Avenue in downtown San Diego amid protests over the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

This post originally appeared in the May 17 Sacramento Report. Get the Sacramento Report delivered to your inbox.

When then-Assemblywoman Shirley Weber passed AB 392, a bill changing the standards for when police can deploy deadly force, it was heralded as a big victory.

A year earlier, police unions had blanketed radio airwaves with ads attacking the measure, and it got put on hold. By the time AB 392 passed, those unions had dropped their opposition and police unions even donated to Weber’s political campaign.

Now scrutiny is emerging over whether the compromises that secured the unions’ support went too far, and made the bill less effective.

That scrutiny emerged over the last year in the San Diego mayor’s race, in which the two Democratic candidates sparred over the measure, and in the race to replace Weber in the Assembly after she was elevated to secretary of state.

A new CalMatters analysis shows that beyond two cases recently charged under the law, “the available evidence so far suggests that the new law has not been as transformative as supporters hoped when they pushed the so-called Act to Save Lives through the Legislature. Nor has the training law led to widespread, state-certified instruction for officers on the new standard for using deadly force.” Police shootings in California, meanwhile, have increased.  The Union-Tribune reports that San Diego’s largest law enforcement agencies appear to be in compliance with the law’s requirements for new trainings.

Resentment over whether the bill was compromised became an issue in the San Diego mayor’s race, when then-Councilwoman Barbara Bry said she supported the law before it was “watered down” to gain police unions’ support.

“Assemblyman Gloria supported it ONLY after the police unions signed off on the revisions,” Bry wrote. “In other words, after it was safe to do so, as he usually does.”

Weber, however, said then-Assemblyman Todd Gloria, who ultimately won the race, was a true champion of the measure.

Yet Bry wasn’t the only Democrat to express wariness that police had too much influence in shaping the law. In the race to replace Weber in the Assembly, several Democratic candidates said they wouldn’t accept money from police unions.

In one debate hosted by criminal justice advocacy group Pillars of the Community, the group’s leader, Khalid Alexander, seemed to be directly taking aim at AB 392.

“In the electoral process, a lot of the time we have bills that come up to the Assembly and through the Senate that can actually make a huge impact in the everyday lives of people who have either been incarcerated or whose families have been impacted by incarceration, but somewhere along the process the elected officials who run for us begin to kinda negotiate, change the wording, twist it around. So what once was a strong bill that could have actually impacted people ends up being in many instances a symbolic bill.”

Alexander told VOSD that he wasn’t referring to AB 392 and didn’t want to point fingers at specific pieces of legislation.

Anyone wondering about the reach and impact of the law should keep an eye on two Southern California cases.

In one, two San Clemente deputies accost a Black man for allegedly jaywalking. In video captured by bystanders, the man repeatedly asks officers to stop touching him, they shove him and tackle him and eventually shoot him, killing the man.

The Orange County district attorney’s office told Voice of San Diego it has not yet finished its investigation of the incident.

The other case that will present a test for prosecutors involves a San Diego Police Department officer who shot a homeless man who was eating food. After an officer asks the man about a knife in his pocket, he grabbed the knife and dropped it to the ground. Officers shot him as he dropped it.

Steve Walker, a spokesman for San Diego District Attorney Summer Stephan, said the office has not yet received the investigation of the incident.

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