UCLA students and experts said a new bill that would limit when police officers are allowed to use deadly force is a good first step in reducing police shootings.
Law enforcement officers can use lethal force when they deem it reasonable. However, Assembly Bill 931, introduced by California State Assemblymember Shirley Weber last week, only allows law enforcement to do so when necessary. The bill follows the death of Stephon Clark, an unarmed African-American man who was fatally shot by Sacramento police officers in March.
Lizzie Buchen, a legislative advocate for the American Civil Liberties Union who is actively working on the bill, said under this new definition, law officers would only be able to use lethal weapons when there are no alternatives, such as de-escalation techniques.
“If there are other things they could have done, then deadly force is not necessary,” she said.
Buchen said legal experts and the Unites States Department of Justice under former President Barack Obama recommended the proposal in the bill as a solution to the high number of deaths caused by police personnel during Obama’s term as president.
“(The bill) did not come out from thin air,” Buchen said. “These are best practices recognized by top leaders in policing – it has been in the works for a long time.”
UCPD Lt. Kevin Kilgore said because the bill is not available in writing for public viewing yet, he is unable to comment on how it would affect policing within UCLA and the Westwood area. A Los Angeles Police Department spokesman declined to comment.
Mark Kaplan, a professor of social welfare at UCLA, said although the proposed bill would be a first step in addressing the high number of fatal shootings, he thinks there are other underlying issues that need to be examined, such as the prevalence of guns and racial bias.
“Cops are hypervigilant (because of the) widespread availability of guns and perception (that) they’re facing the risk of time,” Kaplan said. “There may be racial issues involved, too.”
Kaplan said available data shows the high number of deaths caused by law enforcement personnel is a problem exclusive to the U.S., since the rate in the U.S. is 10 times more than in Germany and three times more than in Canada.
“There are over 500 individuals who are at least reported to be shot or killed by police, but the number might be twice as high as that,” he said. “(Many) of these incidents go unreported.”
Kaplan added the U.S. has a high number of deaths caused by gun violence, compared to countries such as the United Kingdom, Australia and Japan.
“Societies might be as violent, but (other countries) don’t resort to (lethal forces),” Kaplan said. “What are they doing that we are not doing?”
Kosi Ogbuli, a second-year neuroscience and political science student and the vice chair of the Afrikan Student Union, said he supports the idea behind the bill because he thinks the current regulation governing when police officers can use lethal force is vague.
“The premise is sound in that not every situation demands an officer to be armed,” he said. “Reality has shown, and in recent events, that obviously officers being armed doesn’t necessarily correlate to their ability to do their job.”
Buchen said she hopes the bill will create safer communities by changing the legal standard and imposing stricter regulations on the use of deadly force.
“We are hoping to reduce the number of people killed by police every year,” Buchen said. “The bottom line is we’re trying to make communities safer.”
If legislators vote to pass the bill and the governor signs it, the new law would take effect Jan. 1.