SACRAMENTO — A measure that would make California unique in restricting when police officers can use deadly force is getting renewed attention and additional support after a prosecutor said Sacramento police broke no laws when they fatally shot an unarmed black man suspected of vandalism last year.
Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg understood the reasoning behind the decision announced over the weekend but afterward said he supports changing the law.
“The current hundred-year-old standard defining officer-involved shootings needs to change,” the former the state Senate president said. “I do not know if a ‘prevention’ standard would have changed this particular outcome. But I want to change future outcomes.”
Two officers shot and killed Stephon Clark, 22, last March following a chase that ended in his grandparents’ backyard, prompting angry protests in Sacramento and beyond. The officers still could be prosecuted, with state Attorney General Xavier Becerra also investigating and announcing soon whether to file charges.
Lawmakers have revived a measure first introduced after Clark’s slaying that would make California the first state to allow police to use deadly force only when it’s necessary to prevent imminent and serious injury or death and if there’s no reasonable alternative.
Gov. Gavin Newsom, Senate President Tony Atkins and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, all Democrats, have called for changes but haven’t endorsed a specific plan.
The legislation stalled last year amid opposition from law enforcement agencies that fear it would open police to criminal convictions for defending themselves in dangerous situations, make them hesitate at crucial times and discourage some would-be officers from joining the force.
It’s not clear the measure will pass this year, particularly because police associations are offering a less sweeping alternative that would keep the current legal standard but calls for more training and an emphasis on trying to calm suspects.
Many police forces nationwide, including Sacramento, started using body cameras in hopes they will help defuse confrontations and adopted more restrictive policies on chasing suspects.