A number of California lawmakers are suggesting that California should become the first state in the nation to pass legislation that place specific limits on when police officers can open fire on a suspect. The proposal comes just weeks after an unarmed 22-year-old man was fatally shot by police in Sacramento. The Sacramento shooting, however, is just the latest shooting incident in which a suspect has been killed by police. In 2017, police officers in California shot and killed more than 160 individuals, about half of whom were unarmed at the time.
A Difficult Dilemma
Under the current standard, it can be extremely difficult to hold a police officer responsible for the death of a suspect, even if the suspect was unarmed. In many cases, officers will simply indicate that they feared for their safety—which may, in fact, be true—but such a claim is very subjective. There is no question, of course, that police officers have a challenging, dangerous job, but many examples exist where body cameras and videos taken by bystanders have shown that some officers will open fire even when the danger to themselves seems minimal.
California’s present guidelines have been established by statute and case law. They allow officers to use “reasonable force” to subdue a suspect and permit officers to use deadly force when they perceive a threat. The problem that many people see is that officers may “legally” use deadly force even when non-lethal options are available in a given situation.
A Possible Solution
Under the proposed legislation, officers would be limited by a “necessary force” standard. In other words, officers would be permitted to open fire only if “there were no other reasonable alternatives to the use of deadly force,” said Lizzie Buchen, a representative of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The ACLU has been instrumental in the development of the measure. Reasonable alternatives may include verbal warnings, Tasers, and a variety of de-escalation techniques. Officers may also be required to call for backup before opening fire. The measure would also create accountability for officers who place themselves in unnecessary danger, such as jumping in front of a moving car to justify shooting the driver.
California Assemblywoman Shirley Weber co-authored the legislation. She emphasized, “Deadly force can be used, but only when it is completely necessary.”
Law enforcement groups are concerned about the “dangerous rush to judgment” that the proposed changes may bring. They acknowledge the need for transparency and increased training but point out that incidents requiring deadly force develop quickly. There is not always time, critics maintain, to go through a legally required list of alternatives to force.
Legal Issues Involving Police
If you or someone you know has been mistreated by the police in the course of a detainment or an arrest, contact an experienced San Jose criminal defense attorney for help. Call 408-277-0377 for a confidential consultation with Wesley J. Schroeder, Attorney at Law today.