Major law enforcement organizations dropped their opposition Thursday to California legislation that strengthens standards for when officers can use deadly force, the Associated Press reports. The measure would bar police from using lethal force unless it is “necessary” to defend against an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury to officers or bystanders. It was prompted by public outrage over fatal police shootings, including the killing of unarmed vandalism suspect Stephon Clark last year in Sacramento. The current standard lets officers kill if they have “reasonable” fear they or others are in imminent danger, a threshold that makes it rare for officers to be charged or convicted.
“With so many unnecessary deaths, I think everyone agrees that we need to change how deadly force is used in California,” said Democratic Assemblywoman Shirley Weber. “We can now move a policy forward that will save lives and change the culture of policing in California.” The issue has spawned emotional testimony from those who have lost loved ones in confrontations with police and from officers who have been involved in shootings on the job. A revised version of the bill filed Thursday drops an explicit definition of “necessary” that was in the original. The amended measure makes clear that officers are not required to retreat or back down in the face of a suspect’s resistance and officers don’t lose their right to self-defense if they use “objectively reasonable force.” Amendments remove a requirement that officers try to de-escalate confrontations before using deadly force but allow the courts to consider officers’ actions leading up to fatal shootings, said Peter Bibring of the American Civil Liberties Union of California, which proposed the bill and negotiated the changes. The ACLU considers the revised measure to have the strongest language of any in the U.S.