In early July, Santa Ana police officers shot and killed a man who was allegedly breaking into cars in a West Civic Center parking structure. News reports said the man was carrying some sort of metal bar (but apparently no gun), and officers reportedly first used a taser on him. But then an “altercation” took place, which was followed by deadly force.
This isn’t surprising, since Santa Ana is one of the 15 cities with the highest per capita rates of police killings in the nation, according to Assemblymember Shirley Weber, D–San Diego. “Police kill more people in California than in any other state,” Weber said, according to a recent Senate Public Safety Committee report. “In 2017, officers shot and killed 162 people in California, only half of whom were armed with guns, and killed more than twenty others using other types of force.”
In an effort to lower the number of police shootings–which, the hope is, would save lives–Weber introduced AB 931, the “Police Accountability and Community Protection Act.” That bill, currently moving through the state Senate, would impose considerable restrictions on when law enforcement officers can kill people.
Right now, state law–which dates to 1872–allows police officers to kill anyone charged with a felony who resists arrest or flees. But Weber’s bill would change that–drastically.
According to the Senate Committee on Public Safety, the bill:
- “limits the use of deadly force by a peace officer to those situations where it is necessary to prevent imminent and serious bodily injury or death to the officer or another person.”
- “prohibits the use of deadly force by a peace officer in a situation where an individual only poses a risk to himself or herself.”
- “limits the use of force by a peace officer against a person fleeing when the officer has probable cause to believe that the person has committed, or intends to commit, a felony involving death or serious bodily injury, and there is an imminent risk of death or serious bodily injury to the peace officer or to another person if the subject is not immediately apprehended.”
The goal here is nothing less than forcing cops to deescalate situations–situations that don’t always have to end in violence. This is why more than 80 organizations, and another 85 individuals, have submitted testimony to the state Senate in favor of AB 931. One of those, not surprisingly, is the American Civil Liberties Union.
“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,” states this ACLU of Southern California online post on the bill. “For years, communities have demanded accountability for police violence and brutality. AB 931 will save lives and get us one step closer to that.”
Given the significant opposition to the bill from police unions, it’s kind of surprising the bill is still alive (though it was sent back to the Senate Rules Committee on Aug. 16, so who knows what will happen to it next). Given that stopping the bill is the top priority of the powerful lobbying group Peace Officers Research Association of California (PORAC), it might not have long to live.
“Amendments are being proposed; however, as of this writing, they are not yet in print,” states this July 11 online legislative update from PORAC (the organization also regularly tweets anti-bill messages on Twitter using the “#NOonAB931” hashtag). “PORAC’s leaders and panel attorneys, along with ARA [the lobbying firm Aaron Reed & Associates], have been in many meetings over the last couple of months to develop a strategy on how best to defeat this bill. AB 931, in its current form, is detrimental to law enforcement and puts officers and the public at risk. This is our number one issue this year, and every effort is being put forth to keep the bill from moving forward.”
So where do Orange County’s state senators stand? Other than Senator John Moorlach, R–Costa Mesa, who has long opposed everything connected with any public sector union, they’ve pretty much been quiet.
“It is time to change the police culture in California,” Moorlach wrote in this June 19 blog post on a number of law enforcement reform bills, including AB 931.
I also asked for the views of Republican Senate Leader Pat Bates, R–Laguna Hills, Senator Ling Ling Chang, R–Brea, and Senator Janet Nguyen, R–Garden Grove, though I haven’t heard back from their offices by press time.
On Aug. 6, Bates voted in the Senate Appropriations Committee to place the bill in the “suspense file,” which is a sort of a legal limbo for bills that have a fiscal impact above a specific threshold. That vote passed 7-0.
UPDATE, Aug. 22: A spokesperson for Sen. Pat Bates said she opposes AB 931 as it’s currently written.
Anthony Pignataro has been a journalist since 1996. He spent a dozen years as Editor of MauiTime, the last alt weekly in Hawaii. He also wrote three trashy novels about Maui, which were published by Event Horizon Press. But he got his start at OC Weekly, and returned to the paper in 2019 as a Staff Writer.