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California's New Law Says Police Can Use Lethal Force Only When 'Necessary'


Today, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law new rules governing police use of deadly force. The law states that police can use lethal force only when necessary. Up until now, the standard was whether a reasonable officer in the same situation would have acted in the same way. So California now has among the strictest standards in the country. Well, California Assemblywoman Shirley Weber introduced the bill. We caught her at the Capitol in Sacramento just after the bill was signed.

Shirley Weber, welcome.


KELLY: Tell me why you introduced this bill. Why was it necessary in your view?

WEBER: Well, it was necessary because California did not have a solution to the problem we were facing in terms of the shooting of unarmed individuals. It was clear that our policy was outdated, and it was making our communities angry and frustrated because they could see that there were alternative methods that could have been used in saving individuals' lives. And so it's a really simple bill that says you shouldn't use deadly force unless you absolutely have to, unless it is necessary to save your life or someone else's life.

KELLY: How important to you was the case of Stephon Clark, the unarmed black man who was shot in his grandmother's backyard last year and prosecutors didn't charge the officers who killed him?

WEBER: Well, Stephon Clark's issue obviously was close to us because we were here in Sacramento. However, all of the deaths have been very close and painful to us. His obviously became a major one in rallying the folks in Sacramento, but we've had this challenge across the state. I have people from San Diego where we had a young man killed in El Cajon unnecessarily. So I want to say that all of those lives that were taken unnecessarily are extremely important and had a tremendous impact upon me and those who were basically authoring the bill.

KELLY: I want to ask you a question that has been front and center in the debate as this bill has made its way forward. You know, as you know, it changes the standard of force from reasonable to necessary.

WEBER: Right.

KELLY: And there's been a lot of debate over what will qualify as necessary, particularly if you're a police officer trying to make a very difficult decision in a very short amount of time. How worried are you that law enforcement officers acting in the line of duty are not going to quite be able to gauge what counts as necessary?

WEBER: Well, I think what happens is that you look at the totality of the situation. With training, hopefully, people will learn to de-escalate the situation, to get more time and to obviously get distance between them and others rather than rushing situations. If there's not someone's life in danger and there's not someone - the officer themself not immediately confronted with a person, it gives them time to start thinking about other strategies.

KELLY: Sure, but as you know, that's exactly the kind of case that has prompted debate is when there's not a lot of time to consider.

WEBER: Well, let me tell you this. Keep in mind that strategy is used in other communities. This is not uncommon. It just doesn't happen in this community. Now it's by law they have to at least look at other alternatives before using lethal force. And lethal force will - is still available for people to use. But at least there's a different standard by which they will be evaluated and a different standard by which they will be trained. And that's what's most important. There is money that we will be training our officers in the strategies of de-escalation, understanding communities, those kinds of things. And when that has happened in Seattle, when that's happened in San Francisco and now happening in LA, we see a change that's happening in terms of the numbers of individuals who are being shot. So we have precedent that this works and we're going to basically implement it throughout the state of California. You know, unfortunately, I've got a bunch of people around me, but thank you so very much. I've got...

KELLY: May I just ask you one more question, ma'am?

WEBER: What is the one more?

KELLY: The one more is that I understand many of Stephon Clark's family members were there for the bill signing today. I understand law enforcement groups were not. Why not?

WEBER: Those are choices that people make as to whether they want to attend or not. And I didn't get into it very much because, you know, I don't know why law enforcement did not want to be here. But they had gone neutral on the bill and many of them are working on aspects of the bill to make it work. So the reason why they chose not to be here, you'd have to ask them. OK? Thank you very much.

KELLY: Thank you.

KELLY: That's Shirley Weber, California assemblywoman. She introduced California's new bill governing police use of deadly force. And we just caught her as it was being signed into law today. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.