Legal settlement puts police agencies on notice about new use of deadly force restrictions

Days after Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation in 2019 intended to reduce the number of police shootings, law enforcement union leaders began telling officers the new policy hadn’t really changed much.

The president of one of the state’s most influential police unions wrote in a memo to his member agencies that there are no stricter limits on when police can use deadly force, and “the way law enforcement agencies go about their day-to-day work will not materialize.” influence. ” According to documents released with a recent legal settlement.

Alarmed by the “misinformation campaign” targeting new restrictions on police use of deadly force, the American Civil Liberties Union sued the Pomona Police Department in July 2020 for adopting policies and training materials influenced by union efforts to subvert the law.

As part of a settlement agreement reached last month, the Pomona Police Department must reassign its officers in accordance with the 2019 law that Newsom signed into law amid national protests over fatal police killings of unarmed black men, including the shooting dead of a Sacramento man deadly force training in 2018 in his grandparents’ garden.

Civil rights activists hope the settlement will finally end years of disagreement over the meaning of the law and send a warning to police departments across the state to comply or face legal consequences.

“This settlement is important because it confirms that despite what these police lobby groups may have said … the law was indeed changed and the law was changed to raise the standard of deadly force,” said Adrienna Wong, lead attorney at the ACLU of Southern California.

The law, known as Assembly Bill 392, says police can use deadly force only when “it is necessary in the defense of human life,” an amendment hailed as a crucial step in mitigating police shootings – but one which law enforcement critics saw as little more than a technical update of an antiquated state law.

atty General Rob Bonta, who voted in favor of the measure during his tenure in the state assembly, said the deal could bring more clarity to the law.

“No one should have any misunderstanding as to what [AB] 392 required,” he said. “To the extent that there has been any misunderstanding or differing interpretations in California, now that this is resolved, that’s certainly a good thing.”

The AB 392 fight was one of the Capitol’s most intense legislative battles of 2019. Families of victims of police shootings routinely traveled to the Capitol to lobby for tighter restrictions on when officers can pull the trigger. Law enforcement groups have raised serious security concerns about setting what they describe as an “impossible standard” for their members.

In the end, both sides claimed victory.

The proposal raised the standard for lethal force in California from “reasonable” to “necessary” to save lives. But in order to negotiate a deal with the police unions, lawmakers approved a series of changes that included removing the definition of “necessary” from the final draft of the bill, leaving that interpretation to the courts.

With those changes, law enforcement groups said the bill maintains the “reasonable” standard, simply codifying into California law two U.S. Supreme Court cases that dictate when and how deadly force may be used.

One such case, Graham vs. Connor, states that deadly force is warranted if a “reasonable officer” would do the same thing under the same circumstances, which has led prosecutors to focus on only the split second when an officer decides to shoot.

The new law incorporates elements of this case because it is also based on a “reasonable official’s” perspective. But it requires prosecutors to consider both the suspect’s and the officer’s behavior that led to a shooting, a broader view of the circumstances designed to encourage de-escalation tactics and other strategies. An analysis of the bill found that it “would exceed the standards articulated and set by the U.S. Supreme Court.”

But Brian Marvel, President of the Peace Officers Research Assn. of California, days after Newsom signed the bill into law, sent a message to affiliates claiming that proponents “failed to raise the standard for evaluating the use of deadly force from ‘reasonably objective’ to ‘necessary.’ change,” and that the change will not materially alter current police practices.

Lexipol, a public safety consultancy that counts many California police departments among its clients, also released a legal analysis of the bill, saying that while AB 392 contained some “benign changes,” the “good news” was that it was the “Appropriateness” maintained “Standard.

The ACLU said the misinformation quickly spread to departments across the state and resulted in poor education — including in Pomona — that violated the new law.

“Pomona Police Department officers have misunderstood the law regarding their use of force, and they carry that misconception with them as they patrol the community armed with deadly weapons,” the lawsuit says.

The Pomona Police Department did not respond to requests for comment. According to court filings, senior officials at the department claimed that officers were assigned to watch a video about the law’s requirements and that the agency updated its use-of-force policy twice in 2020.

The settlement agreement requires the department to provide training on “substantially changing the threshold for the use of force” and to update its use-of-force policy to reflect the increased legal standard that officers must sign for confirmation. It is also not permitted to use PORAC ​​communications for formal training purposes.

Even after the agreement was reached, some law enforcement groups still maintained that the law had not made a sweeping change.

In a statement, Lexipol spokeswoman Shannon Pieper said the company had shared information with its customers that “consistent with the language of the law.”

Marvel declined to comment, but did point through a spokesperson to a letter written to him by PORAC’s attorneys, which reinforced the association’s legal position.

“PORAC ​​stands behind our legal analysis that the AB 392 Criminal Code amendments largely codified the constitutional standards set by the courts and modernized outdated laws in California,” the attorneys wrote.

The ongoing disagreement could signal future lawsuits.

Secretary of State Shirley Weber, writing AB 392 as a former Assembly member, said police organizations worked hard in 2019 to “undo the impact of the bill”. The ACLU lawsuit helps “really clarify what the intent of the bill was, what it did, and what the language actually meant,” Weber said.

“I assume we have to keep doing that,” she said. Legal settlement puts police agencies on notice about new use of deadly force restrictions

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