Calif. governor signs law where police may only use deadly force if 'necessary,' not 'reasonable'

Image 1 of 2

California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a measure on Monday aimed at deterring shootings by police, inspired in part by the officer-involved shootings of  Sacramento's Stephon Clark, Vallejo's Wille McCoy and Oakland's Oscar Grant.

The Golden State now has the strictest law in the United States limiting when police can use deadly force and starting next year, officers could face criminal charges for using lethal force when there was a reasonable alternative.

AB 392, authored by Democratic Assemblywoman Shirley Weber of San Diego, now changes California's existing lethal force standards to require that deadly force may only be used when "necessary." Existing law had been that police could shoot when they believed it was "reasonable." 

Proponents say the law will encourage police to try de-escalation techniques such as verbal persuasion and other crisis intervention methods. The measure passed with bipartisan support after major police organizations won concessions.

"Most of you know this has been a hard and long journey," Weber said at a news conference. "But we never wavered in our commitment." 

Weber thanked Newsom for helping change the culture of policing in California. 

Weber was moved to act in part by last year's fatal shooting of Stephon Clark, whose death sparked major protests in the state capital and reverberated nationwide. Clark's family, along with the family of Oscar Grant, who was killed by BART police in 2009, and the family of Willie McCoy, who was killed by Vallejo police in February as he lay sleeping at a Taco Bell with a gun, have been working behind the scenes to help pass this new deadly force law.

McCoy's brother, Kori McCoy, 48, of Hercules, said the law offers a "ray of solace" for his family, as courts will now have to determine whether deadly force was necessary to defend  "against an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury" to the officer or to another person.

Weber said it wasn't until she met all these families that she really understood the pain they were going through and the justice they were seeking. 

"We won't bring back those we've lost," Weber said. "But we hope and pray that it will prevent those from being lost." 


This story was reported from Oakland, Calif.