By Terry Miller
During the regular Arcadia Council meeting Aug. 7, long-time Councilman Roger Chandler took exception to democratic support to State Assembly bill 931 which, according to Chandler, claims that special interests want to limit the use of force policy in the police department and “is very bad for Arcadia but a dream come true for lawyers.”
The California Peace Officers Association (CPOA) vehemently opposes AB 931 (Weber-D), which also shares opposition from nearly every law enforcement organization in California. It received a 5-2 vote in the Senate Public Safety Committee on Tuesday. “This party-line approval vote sends the bill to the Senate Appropriations Committee, which is chaired by Senator Anthony Portantino (D) of La Cañada-Flintridge. Mr. David Mastagni of the Mastagni Holstedt law firm in Sacramento testified on behalf of CPOA and referenced several court cases that upheld an officers’ ‘reasonableness’ regarding use of force, but we will now have to weigh in on the fiscal costs expected if the bill passes,” according to the CPOA.
Holding up a picture of Senator Anthony Portantino Tuesday, to audible sneers in the audience, Councilman Chandler accused the senator and multiple ‘special interest groups’ of undermining police powers by limiting their authority which he believes will help attorneys and hinder cities like Arcadia.
During the past few years, use of force by police officers has been in the collective consciousness and media scrutiny in communities throughout the United States and garnered international and local headlines regarding police use of force.
In California, many feel that officers are restricted or constricted by more and more laws that prevent them from using force when necessary.
The bill – AB 931 – was actually introduced by Assemblymembers Weber and McCarty in February 2017 with principal coauthors: Assemblymembers Holden, Jones-Sawyer, Mark Stone and Senators Bradford and Mitchell.
During Public Senate Safety Appropriations hearing on Aug. 6, Portantino chaired the committee.
Current law authorizes a peace officer to make an arrest pursuant to a warrant or based upon probable cause, as specified. This bill would, notwithstanding that provision, require peace officers to attempt to control an incident by using time, distance, communications, and available resources in an effort to deescalate a situation whenever it is safe and reasonable to do so.
Under existing law, an arrest is made by the actual restraint of the person or by submission to the custody of the arresting officer.
Existing law authorizes a peace officer to use reasonable force to effect the arrest, to prevent escape, or to overcome resistance. Existing law does not require an officer to retreat or desist from an attempt to make an arrest because of resistance or threatened resistance of the person being arrested.
According to the author the need for this bill is critical:
“Police kill more people in California than in any other state. In 2017, officers shot and killed 162 people in California, only half of whom were armed with guns, and killed more than 20 others using other types of force. Of the 15 police departments with the highest per capita rates of police killings in the nation, five are in California: Bakersfield, Stockton, Long Beach, Santa Ana and San Bernardino. Police in Kern County have killed more people per capita than in any other U.S. county.
“Current law results in officers killing civilians far more often than is necessary, leaving many families and communities devastated and the general public less safe. These tragedies disproportionately impact communities of color: studies show police kill unarmed young black men at more than twenty times the rate they kill young white men. This has understandably created a rift between police and community members, to the detriment of public safety.
“The power of police officers to use deadly force is perhaps the most significant responsibility we confer on any public official, and it must be guided by the goal of safeguarding human life. But current law sanctions police use of deadly force even when officers do not face an imminent threat to life or bodily security, and even when officers have reasonable alternatives at their disposal to safely address a situation without taking anyone’s life.”
This bill would, notwithstanding that provision, require peace officers to attempt to control an incident by using time, distance, communications, and available resources in an effort to deescalate a situation whenever it is safe and reasonable to do so.
Under existing law, the use of deadly force resulting in the death of a person is justified when it was necessarily committed in overcoming actual resistance to an arrest, when it was necessarily committed in apprehending a felon who had escaped from custody, or when it was necessarily committed in arresting a person charged with a felony and who was fleeing from justice or resisting arrest. Under AB 931, police would only be allowed to use deadly force if there were no reasonable alternatives available and if there was an imminent threat to the officer or another person’s safety.
According to a recent article in the LA Times “AB 931 would change the criminal standard by which officers are judged throughout the state. It would force all departments to match their policies and training to a strict standard. Some police unions have indicated they will fight the change. San Francisco Dist. Atty. George Gascon has joined with civil rights groups to champion it. Gascon previously was the police chief in San Francisco and deputy police chief in Los Angeles.”
According to City Manager Dominic Lazzaretto “There will be a City Manager item on the next City Council meeting. At that meeting, we’ll consider adopting a resolution to oppose the assembly bill. If the resolution passes, then we’ll send it along with a cover letter to key members of the Assembly and Senate for their consideration. We will also forward it along to various professional organizations that lobby the State on municipal affairs so they know our stance on the proposal. We don’t have any power to actually stop something like this; we can just make our viewpoint known and hope our state officials make an informed decision.”