A Use-of-Force Measure That Makes Sense

The battle over use of force continues. This legislative session picks up where the last one left off, but with some modifications. Law enforcement took the initiative this year and came up with SB 230, a use-of-force measure that is saner and safer than last year’s AB 931, which threatened to make officers criminally liable for doing their jobs. SB 230 is the result of a collaboration among law enforcement organizations.

AB 931 was narrowly defeated last year, thanks to the intense efforts of our statewide partner PORAC and its president, Brian Marvel. But Shirley Weber and Kevin McCarty, who introduced AB 931 — which sought to raise the state standard for officers’ use of lethal force from “reasonable” to “necessary” and only after “reasonable alternatives[s]” such as “warnings, verbal persuasion or other nonlethal methods” were deployed — are back with AB 392, a similar bill. Obviously, the lawmakers have never had to make a life-or-death decision in a split second.

SB 230 makes sense because it won’t criminalize officers for doing their jobs. This bill takes into account how dangerous policing can be and how a seemingly nonthreatening situation can quickly devolve into tragedy. Increasingly, law enforcement is called upon to handle situations that involve mental health or drug issues, situations that officers often have little training for.

The aim of SB 230 “is to ensure our officers can continue protecting human life while building on the community trust so many of our agencies enjoy,” Marvel has written. “Just as peace officers can’t anticipate what they will encounter on any given day, our laws governing their engagement must account for the vast, unpredictable threats they face. SB 230 does that.”

The thing about AB 392 is that it creates a subjective standard for evaluating officers and is largely based on hindsight. As the saying goes, “Hindsight is 20/20.” It’s always easy to criticize an officer’s actions after the fact. How about some training or funding for officers to minimize the use of force? Don’t look to AB 392 for any answers. However, SB 230 provides for both.

SB 230 also sets a clear and enforceable standard for authorizing use of force, instead of undermining officers’ ability to respond to life-or-death situations as AB 392 does. In fact, data released by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics showed a notable drop in police-initiated contacts with the public over a four-year period. This suggests that law enforcement officers are more hesitant to make stops and use necessary force.

In addition, SB 230 would require all of California’s 500 law enforcement agencies to:

  • Undergo the best use-of-force training available.
  • Continue to uphold their commitment to protecting all Californians.
  • Adhere to the use-of-force standard set by the U.S. Supreme Court.
  • Establish the most comprehensive use-of-force policies and guidelines in the nation.

This is all reasonable and logical for the real-world conditions under which we operate. Los Angeles International Airport is the second-busiest airport in the nation and the fourth-busiest in the world. “We at LAAPOA are responsible for ensuring the safety of a staggering 87 million passengers every year. We face threats from outside and within the airport grounds. We cannot be hamstrung by measures such as AB 392 that would have a chilling effect on our officers, putting their lives and those of the traveling public at risk,” says Marshall McClain, LAAPOA president.

“SB 230 is a comprehensive, common-sense approach to reforming police accountability. It’s a scalpel rather than a broadsword like what is being proposed by Weber and McCarty with AB 392, which is dangerous to the community,” McClain continues. “SB 230 mandates more training for officers to help address the growing mental health and narcotics crisis plaguing our state and country.”

As always, we will continue to monitor this legislation and keep you apprised. Or you can be proactive, contact your legislator and let them know you support AB 230!