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Calif. Gov. Newsom Expected To Sign Bill Limiting Police Use Of Deadly Force


Today California's governor, Gavin Newsom, is expected to sign a bill that raises the legal standard for when police can use deadly force. This is in response to the numerous times when deadly police force killed unarmed black men, including Stephon Clark last year in Sacramento. Capital Public Radio's Ben Adler joins me now from Sacramento. Hey there, Ben.

BEN ADLER, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So tell us about this law. What does it actually do?

ADLER: Well, I think it is fair to call it a compromise. The whole debate boils down to two words, necessary and reasonable, and how they're defined. Right now, deadly force is justified if a reasonable officer would have acted similarly in that situation. So in other words, what a typical officer would have done, based on his or her training. When the law takes effect in January, that standard will change to when the officer reasonably believes deadly force is necessary.

GREENE: OK. So what defines necessary is very central to this law, it sounds like.

ADLER: And the law dodges, leaving it up to the legal system to figure out. That was part of the compromise. Now, a few other parts of this deal. The officer's conduct leading up to the shooting will be considered, but so, too, will the suspect's behavior. And there's language in the bill that requires police to use other alternatives, such as de-escalation, less lethal options, before using deadly force. But that's a statement of intent, not a specific checklist. And finally, a big thing for law enforcement, a separate bill creates new training standards for officers, and there's money in the state budget to pay for that training.

GREENE: OK. But it sounds like a lot is still going to come down to judges. But this new law and the language using and stressing the word necessary really pushes judges into a different direction to see what, in their mind, was necessary in moments like this.

ADLER: Yeah. And again, that's the push and pull of the legislative process here. It really was hard to hammer out the deal. And this is, I think, a key part of it.

GREENE: How did they get there? I mean, what was the hammering out? What did it look like?

ADLER: Well, yeah. So it all started - the new momentum in this issue started last March of last year, when Stephon Clark was killed by Sacramento police in his grandmother's backyard. Officers said they thought Clark had a gun. In fact, he was holding a cellphone. And this past March, the Sacramento County district attorney and the California attorney general, in separate investigations, each decided not to charge the officers who shot Clark. That all led to - both times - to protests in the streets.


UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Yelling) Say his name.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Stephon Clark.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Yelling) Say his name.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Stephon Clark.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Yelling) Say his name.

ADLER: And one of the things the protesters demanded was this new use of force standard.

GREENE: I mean, this issue has been so polarizing, Ben. What led to the compromise here? Why did they reach a deal in this case here?

ADLER: And it took a long time, David, because they started very far apart. The community activists and civil liberties groups said only the necessary standard would force officers to change their behavior. But law enforcement said that would put officers' lives in danger. And a bill first introduced after Clark's death failed last fall. The Democratic leader of the state Senate ordered the two sides to spend the next several months negotiating. Talks broke down several times, and it was only when it became clear that neither side had the votes to get their way that they finally reached a deal.

GREENE: Could this deal be a model for other laws in other states and around the country, Ben?

ADLER: It's really going to be interesting to watch because, of course, California has been known to, you know, have other states follow its lead, right? So just this past weekend, a new state working group in Minnesota held its first hearing on use of deadly force. And that's one of many states I think we'll be watching.

GREENE: Capital Public Radio's Ben Adler. Thanks so much, Ben.

ADLER: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ben Adler