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City Council Votes To Support State Bill Limiting Police’s Use Of Deadly Force

A San Diego police car parked in downtown San Diego, Oct. 24, 2018.

Photo by Susan Murphy

Above: A San Diego police car parked in downtown San Diego, Oct. 24, 2018.

The San Diego City Council voted 6-2 Tuesday in favor of a resolution to support state legislation written by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, that would limit when law enforcement officers can use deadly force.

Should Assembly Bill 392 be codified, law enforcement officers around the state would still be able to use deadly force as self-defense. However, law enforcement officers would be held liable for homicide if an investigation finds they acted with criminal negligence or if their use of deadly force on a civilian was necessitated by the officer's own actions.

Nearly 120 public speakers urged the council to support the resolution, arguing that police officers must be held accountable for shooting unarmed citizens. The council's resolution notes that police officers in California killed 172 people in 2017, the last year data is available from the state's Department of Justice. Half of those killed were not brandishing a gun.

City Councilwoman Monica Montgomery agreed, citing similar successful policies in San Francisco and Seattle.

RELATED: What Impact Would AB-392 Have On Police Use Of Force?

"The state legislature must pass AB 392 to raise California's standard for police use of force and bring it in line with national best practices," Montgomery said. "When police use tactics to slow down situations and de-escalate tensions, it saves community lives and also increases safety for officers."

San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit and San Diego Police Officers Association President Jack Schaeffer both said they're in favor of reforming police training to emphasize de-escalation tactics over deadly force, but argued that AB 392 is a step too far.

"We would all stand to benefit from fewer lethal use-of-force incidents," Schaeffer said. "However, we must do so in a way that doesn't jeopardize the safety of our officers and the safety of our communities."

Nisleit also suggested that modern communication may be to blame for growing public mistrust of law enforcement officers. These communication methods, he said, make it harder for law enforcement officers and agencies to engage with citizens and build partnerships with communities.

"Opinions and narratives of persons and topics are shaped by controversial images and inaccurate statements, spread instantaneously by social media and, in some cases, mainstream media, even as critical incidents are unfolding," Nisleit said.

City Council members Scott Sherman and Mark Kersey voted against the resolution, while City Councilman Chris Cate was absent. The technically nonpartisan council's six Democrats voted in favor.

While Kersey declined to comment on his vote, Sherman argued that the vote was strictly symbolic and would have little bearing on the state legislature's vote or Gov. Gavin Newsom's choice to sign the bill should it get to his desk. Sherman also said that he never supports resolutions and needed to remain consistent.

"At the end of the day, it's a non-binding resolution that doesn't really have a lot of effect and probably usually ends up in a circular file somewhere underneath a bureaucrat's desk," Sherman said, noting that he was reluctant to cast a "no" vote.

The council's decision comes two weeks after the county Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to oppose the bill. Supervisor Dianne Jacob called the bill divisive and said it places an "unreasonable and unfair burden" on law enforcement officers by making them show proof their use of force was necessary.

Weber co-authored the legislation, dubbed the California Act to Save Lives, with Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento. The two introduced a similar bill last year after two Sacramento police officers shot and killed Stephon Clark, an unarmed black man, but it made little progress in the legislature.

The two officers were not charged for Clark's death after Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert ruled in March that they were legally justified in killing Clark because they said they felt they were in imminent danger. The decision prompted public outcry and further inflamed the national conversation about police violence.

The San Diego Organizing Project, a coalition of 28 local religious congregations, praised the council for its vote.

"I have seen how our current system disproportionately harms our brothers and sisters of color," said Christopher Ransom, SDOP spokesman for the City of Hope International Church. "Today's good news on the California Act to Save Lives means we are closer to a solution to keep our communities protected."

The Assembly's Public Safety Committee approved the bill by a 5-2 vote last month. According to Weber, the full Assembly is scheduled to vote on AB 392 next week.

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