Old Laws vs. New Laws.

The battle in California regarding the use of force is at full strength with groups who are attempting to change the current laws protecting peace officer’s right to use deadly force when they have a “reasonable” fear of being harmed.  The current law makes it hard for officers to be charged or convicted for the death of victims of excessive or deadly force during police encounters.  The heated debate and need for policy change has been fueled by the police officer-involved shooting death of Stephon Clark in Sacramento after the recent decision made by Sacramento District Attorney’s office to NOT charge the officers involved.  Recent laws on transparency and compliance are supportive of the need for “use of force” changes.

Sacramento Police Department Policies on deadly force are aligned with the California Penal Code Section 835a stating “Any peace officer who has reasonable cause to believe that the person to be arrested has committed a public offense may use reasonable force to effect the arrest, to prevent escape or to overcome resistance.  A peace officer who makes or attempts to make an arrest need not retreat or desist from his efforts by reason of the resistance or threatened resistance of the person being arrested; nor shall such officer be deemed an aggressor or lose his right to self-defense by the use of reasonable force to effect the arrest or to prevent escape or to overcome resistance.”  The use of deadly force is allowed if the officer reasonably believes the suspect poses a threat of death or serious bodily injury to others or the police officer.  Sacramento Police Department “use of force” policies specifically outline the need for officers to be mindful of circumstances where encounter subjects may be physically or mentally unable to properly respond to police commands due to 1) medical conditions, 2)  mental illness, 3) drugs or alcohol,  and 4) language and cultural barriers, before using force; and that officers evaluate ALL reasonable and available force options before resorting to deadly force from discharged firearms.

Department of Justice Review.

The Department of Justice Reviewed the Sacramento Police Department and their findings in January 2019 revealed a need to address updates to:

1. Use of Force Policies;

2. Use of Force Reporting and Investigation;

3. Use of Force Training;

4. Officer-Involved Shooting Incident Review;

5. Personnel Complaint Procedures;

6. Community Engagement and Transparency.

Proposed Bill AB392.

The proposed changes to current California law are outlined in AB392 which is a bill guiding actions of deadly force by police – only when they have no alternative to that path.  The bill is modeled after other police departments in the United States who have had reductions in police killings utilizing de-escalation techniques to be used whenever it is possible.  Officer’s need to be aware of the impact of their actions leading up to the moment when deadly force is justified, and they will be judged on that interaction with police-involved killing investigations.  Law enforcement agencies who have implemented and use stricter “use of force” policies reveal a reduction in deaths by police officers who are less likely to be killed or sustain serious injury during encounters, without increased in officer injuries or crime rates in those agency communities.

Mandatory De-escalation Training in California.

The State of California, through the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training, has mandated de-escalation training for its police departments for two hours every two years. Intensive and continuous professional encounter training programs should be made available to all police officers, so they can “reasonably” respond to stressful situations in the field during encounters with all types of citizens.  Reports of mental health crises all over the United States are in the news almost daily, and de-escalation training is one avenue to slow an inflammatory situation down during a stressful encounter without using excessive or deadly force.  The Department of Justice defines “de-escalation” as “the strategic slowing down of an incident in a manner that allows officers more time, distance, space and tactical flexibility during dynamic situations on the street.”

Training methods for police officers include:

1) Listen respectfully.

2) Crowd control.

3) Courteous example.

4) Body language reducing intimidation.

5) Control offensive talking or action during encounter.

6) Don’t publicly humiliate anyone and be respectful.

7) Don’t waste time and energy trying to convince a citizen that he’s wrong and you’re right.

8) Remember that “broken record” is a useful way to achieve two goals—conveying the message that you’re in charge while keeping the lid on a potential conflict.

Transparency Law Supports Changes in “Use of Force.”

A California law that took effect January 1, 2019 allows public access to police records in use-of-force cases.  Senate Bill 1421 requires the availability to the public of “any record relating to an incident in which a sustained finding was made by any law enforcement agency or oversight agency of dishonesty by a peace officer or custodial officer directly relating to the reporting, investigation, or prosecution of a crime, or directly relating to the reporting of, or investigation of misconduct by, another peace officer or custodial officer, including, but not limited to, any sustained finding of perjury, false statements, filing false reports, destruction, falsifying, or concealing of evidence.”  The hope is that the transparency of police activity will help restore the public trust and make officers more aware of the importance of their behaviors during encounters with the citizens they protect and serve. California was the only state to lock internal investigations based on citizen complaints away from the public until this new law.

Hire an attorney.

If you feel you have been a victim of excessive force by a police officer in Sacramento California, you should immediately contact a lawyer to review your case to see if you can sue for damages.  Damages may include hospital/medical expenses; past and future permanent disability payments; emotional distress including depression and anxiety; loss of enjoyment of life; physical pain and suffering; and loss of love and companionship due to a death or serious injury caused by police brutality through excessive force.

Sources:

http://www.cityofsacramento.org/-/media/Corporate/Files/Police/Transparency/DOJ-Reports/DOJ-Recommendations-and-SPD-Responses.pdf?la=en

https://www.cityofsacramento.org/-/media/Corporate/Files/Police/Transparency/GO-58003–Discharge-of-Firearm.pdf?la=en

https://www.cityofsacramento.org/Police/Transparency/Officer-Involved-Shootings/Policy-and-Law

https://www.cityofsacramento.org/-/media/Corporate/Files/Police/Transparency/GO-58002–Use-of-Force.pdf?la=en

http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displaySection.xhtml?sectionNum=835a.&lawCode=PEN