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Police Deadly Force Law Advances In California Legislature

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

Demonstrators engage with police officers at a protest in downtown Sacramento over the death of Stephon Clark.

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

A bill that would change when California police officers may use deadly force is moving forward in the state Senate, despite opposition from law enforcement.

The Senate public safety committee approved the measure on Tuesday.

Backed by civil liberties groups, it would change the standard for using force from when it is “objectively reasonable” to when it is “necessary” and there are “no reasonable alternatives.”

The New York Police Department and U.S. Department of Justice currently have similar standards.

Since the measure’s introduction, law enforcement groups have lined up in opposition, arguing it would put officers at risk and make them vulnerable to lawsuits.

“We think this bill discourages proactive policing by making officers fear the repercussions of split-second decisions,” said Cory Salzillo, a lobbyist representing the California State Sheriffs’ Association.

A representative for police chiefs suggested support for more training for officers about de-escalating encounters.

Democratic state Sen. Steven Bradford said more changes than just training are needed, citing statistics that show police kill black men at far higher rates than white men.

“I’m all for better training, but why isn’t it training needed when you encounter white folks? You only need better training when you encounter black and brown people.” Bradford said. “It’s racism. We don’t have a problem with law enforcement. We’ve got a problem with racism in this country.”

The measure’s introduction followed the death of Stephon Clark, an unarmed black man shot by police in Sacramento in March.

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