California Looks to Set Rules for Police Use of Force

The use of deadly force by police officers has a few bright lines. Most would agree that officers can use force when a suspect has a gun in a threatening position. And most would agree that officers shouldn’t shoot where no immediate danger exists. But between those borders exists a vast area in which to define reasonable use of force. California looked last year to become the first state to define that in legislation. However, that stalled and so the Legislature is back at it.

As it currently stands, there are two separate proposals. One, backed by law enforcement groups, would require that each department have a defined policy on alternative forms of force and de-escalation. The other, backed by civil rights groups, would be far more strict:

Last year’s police shooting of unarmed vandalism suspect Stephon Clark in Sacramento inspired the proposal that would allow officers to kill only if there is no reasonable alternative, such as verbal persuasion or other non-lethal methods of resolution or de-escalation. …

But the committee’s chairman, Democratic Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer of Los Angeles, said a tougher standard will do little good without buy-in from law enforcement organizations. They’re supporting a radically different plan, which lawmakers also will consider, requiring that every department have policies on when officers should use de-escalation tactics and other alternatives to deadly force.


It’s past time that . While the end result is likely to be somewhere in between, it is long past time that California engage in this conversation and find some action that will do something to reduce these incidents.