A California bill that would make it easier to prosecute and jail law enforcement officers who kill civilians remains alive as the end of the state’s legislative session approaches.
Police reform advocates and law enforcement groups throughout the country have been closely monitoring the measure, which is expected to become a model for other states if it becomes law.
Assembly Bill 931 (AB 931) is currently parked in the Senate Rules Committee. Lawmakers have until August 31 to get it passed by both chambers of the Legislature, when it would then advance to Governor Jerry Brown’s desk.
“We look forward to participating in ongoing discussions to ensure the passage of legislation to prevent unnecessary deaths and save lives ahead of the Senate floor debate,” said Natasha Minsker, an official with the ACLU, after the bill was recently pulled from its fiscal committee deadline and kept alive.
Also known as the Police Accountability and Community Protection Act, the proposed law would change the standard under which police officers can be prosecuted for fatally shooting suspects while in the line of duty. The ACLU is a co-sponsor and helped write the measure. Supporters say it aims to discourage deadly force by cops. However, many law enforcement groups describe the bill as a legislative vehicle to criminally charge police officers who fatally shoot civilians.
The San Jose Mercury News reports:
Under the bill, police officers in California who use deadly force would have to prove it was necessary and that they had exhausted all reasonable non-lethal alternatives and de-escalation techniques. It would also increase officers’ exposure to criminal prosecution in instances where they are shown to have exercised gross negligence.
Last week, the ACLU and more than 20 activist groups descended on the California State Capitol to demand that legislators pass the bill. Chants like, “Whose house? Our house!” and “Hands up; don’t shoot,” could be heard echoing through the hallways.
Law enforcement groups were also on hand to educate elected officials about deadly force training techniques. The union that represents rank-and-file officers in the Los Angeles Police Department handed out informational flyers that accused the ACLU of citing “misleading” statistics to promote AB 931.
“Whether it does or doesn’t pass, we want to ensure we’re part of the conversation,” said San Jose Police Chief Eddie Garcia.
Several lawmakers and their staffers engaged with police groups, participating in use-of-force simulator exercises. Demonstrations presented visual, interactive scenarios designed to teach cops and recruits when to pull the trigger.
AB 931 was introduced by Assemblymembers Shirley Weber (D-San Diego) and Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento) earlier this year in the wake of the officer-involved killing of Stephon Clark. The 22-year-old unarmed black man was shot to death by police who mistook the cell phone in his hand for a firearm. The Sacramento County District Attorney still hasn’t decided whether to bring criminal charges against the officers.
The ACLU and other sponsors of AB 931 have planned a “Twitter Day of Action” for Wednesday. Organizers will attempt to garner enough support to move the bill forward to the Senate floor before the session concludes at the end of the month.
Follow Jeffrey Cawood on Twitter @Near_Chaos.