Editorials

Our View: Plenty of sides on use of lethal force by police. What’s needed is action.

Hanibal and Evin Yadegar
Hanibal and Evin Yadegar Courtesy of Hanibal Yadegar

Supporters of rival bills at the Capitol in Sacramento, both addressing police use of lethal force, will have to resume negotiating now that a Senate committee has linked their fates. That’s probably a good thing, if they can find enough common ground to make everyone happy — and all of us more safe.

On one side are activists and advocates for aggressive reform. They support Assembly Bill 392, by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, which would raise the standard used by law enforcement when deciding whether to shoot someone. An officer would do so only if it becomes necessary to preserve safety, rather than the long-held standard of whether the average officer would find it reasonable to take deadly aim.

Authorities oppose that significant shift, predicting it would force officers to second-guess themselves, leaving them vulnerable and subject to prosecution when they do shoot to kill. The law enforcement lobby came up with Senate Bill 230, which would preserve the reasonable standard while requiring improved police training. Its author is Sen. Anna Caballero, a Salinas Democrat whose district stretches far into the Central Valley and includes Ceres, Newman, Patterson and part of Modesto.

The Sacramento Bee Editorial Board called SB 230 a “weak window dressing bill” created by law enforcement solely to derail the more aggressive AB 392, which was prompted by the killing of unarmed Stephon Clark a little more than a year ago by Sacramento police, who mistook his cell phone for a gun.

When differences emerge at the Capitol, it’s a good idea for both sides to sit down and try to work things out. They tried last fall with AB 392, and failed. So Caballero introduced SB 230 in February, leading to more negotiating, and more failure. Tuesday’s hearing of SB 230 in the Senate Public Safety Committee provided a testing ground, with people from throughout the state sharing stories of loved ones killed by police.

Rather than simply rejecting Caballero’s bill, committee members stripped language that would have codified the status quo reasonable standard, and they also tied SB 230 directly to AB 392. It’s an uncommon move, and it means SB 230 can only become law if the Legislature in a few weeks approves AB 392, the one considered by many to be true reform.

So now the hard work resumes. Both sides are telling reporters they’re willing to sit down and try again. We wish them luck, because no one deserves to die from another’s error, and officers deserve to know what’s expected of them in tense moments.

It’s not clear if the proposed standard of using lethal force only when necessary, not just whether it would be reasonable to shoot, might have spared Modesto’s Evin Olsen Yadegar, who had bipolar disorder and likely was in mental crisis when a Stanislaus County deputy sheriff shot and killed her after a slow-speed chase from Salida to Ripon in February 2017. Could more effective or different training of the deputy, who faces trial on a charge of voluntary manslaughter, have changed things?

It’s worth a try, because that shooting was a tragedy for Yadegar, for her grieving family, and for the deputy and his family. It’s time for a new approach.

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