California Governor Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 392 this week, creating the first step in stricter standards for law enforcement when they feel they must use deadly force.
Newsom invited family members who lost loved ones to police violence onstage to join him as he signed the bill in Sacramento at the secretary of state’s courtyard. He noted the bill’s intent to change police culture will be determined by how it is implemented.
“This is remarkable to get to this moment on a bill that was so controversial, but it means nothing unless we make this moment meaningful,” Newsom said. “And so that is the goal and the desire of all of us, law enforcement and members of the community, to address these issues in a more systemic way, and that’s going to take a lot more work than passing a piece of legislation.”
The new law requires that law enforcement only use deadly force when “necessary,” versus the current wording of when it is “reasonable.” According to the Los Angeles Times, large urban law enforcement departments that already train in de-escalation and crisis intervention will probably not see a noticeable change in day-to-day policing.
The law also prohibits police from shooting fleeing felons who don’t pose an immediate threat, which is an update from California’s original code dating back to 1872.
“The bill is watered down; everybody knows that,” Stevante Clark, brother of Stephon Clark, said of the bill, which came in response to his brother’s death. “But at least we are getting something done. At least we are having the conversation now.”
Clark, who the bill is named after, was shot at least seven times in the backyard of his grandmother’s home in Sacramento, by police who were investigating close by burglaries. His death triggered protests and inflamed national anger over police use of violence, specifically towards black men.
The use of force was explained and defended, according to the District Attorney, as the officers claimed to be in fear for their lives, assuming Mr. Clark was armed with a gun. Police body camera and helicopter video eventually showed the officers firing 20 shots at Clark, who was actually discovered to only have an iPhone.
“This is Stephon Clark’s law,” Stevante Clark said. “The cost, the price that had to be paid for this, it hurts. […] I hate that this had to come out of such a tragic situation, but at the same time, it helps the healing process to know his name could possibly prevent something like this from happening again.”
Assembly Bill 392 takes effect in January; however, it will take some time for the state’s nearly 80,000 sworn officers to be retrained in the new standards.