California police reported 628 use-of-force incidents last year – that’s a drop

As California lawmakers move to restrict police officers’ use of deadly force, a new report says law enforcement agencies have cut use-of-force instances by 20 percent since 2016.

Agencies reported 628 incidents last year that involved serious bodily injury, death or the discharge of a firearm, according to a crime report published by the state Department of Justice on Tuesday. That’s a dip from 782 incidents in 2016, and from 707 a year later.

In these instances, which involved close to 680 civilians and more than 1,550 officers, 94 percent of the civilians were male and roughly half were Hispanic. Another 20 percent were black and close to a third were white. Nearly three quarters of the incidents ended in arrest.

A third of the civilians were shot and 146 were killed during use-of-force incidents. Three officers also died and 255 were injured.

In many situations, officers employed physical take-down techniques and choke holds, and used electronic devises or K-9 enforcement instead of deadly force.

Los Angeles County had the highest number of incidents at 173, while Sacramento County reported 18.

The report coincides with a pending proposal in the California Assembly that would restrict when officers are allowed to employ deadly force. Assembly Bill 392 would elevate the legal standard from when lethal action is “reasonable” to only when “necessary,” as in cases of imminent threat of death or serious injury.

Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, wrote the legislation to “match best practices” adopted by police departments across the country.

“Police officers should never take a human life when there are alternatives,” Weber said during a committee hearing on June 18. “AB 392 is a necessary step in affirming the sanctity of life and protecting human rights. The need for reform is clear and it is long overdue.”

Lawmakers and community members backing the bill said legislative action is necessary to combat a disproportionate number of black and brown Californians who are killed during police deadly force incidents.

“When we want desired social outcomes, we set laws around those outcomes,” said Joshua Robinson, president of the Black Student Union at Sacramento City College, during a July 2 Assembly Select Committee on Gun Violence in Communities of Color hearing.

“When it comes to police gun violence, we don’t have that. We don’t have punitive consequences for these actions. Even when they’re super blatant. Unarmed, didn’t have no weapon, (they) killed him,” he said.

The bill would require departments to upgrade policies to meet the proposed law’s requirements, and would mandate new training for officers.

The legislation earned the support of advocacy groups like the American Civil Liberties Union of California, and law enforcement agencies rescinded their opposition once Weber took amendments that loosened an officer’s criminal liability in lethal force cases.

Police lobbyists defended officers in the months before AB 392 was modified, and argued that officers faced with criminal prosecution could second guess themselves in dangerous situations that jeopardize their safety and the well being of community members.

After more than a year of discussion, Weber compromised to earn the co-sponsorship of Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon and Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, as well as the support of Gov. Gavin Newsom and some Republicans.

The bill must pass the Senate floor before it reaches Newsom’s desk.

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Hannah Wiley joined The Bee as a legislative reporter in 2019. She produces the morning newsletter for Capitol Alert and previously reported on immigration, education and criminal justice. She’s a Chicago-area native and a graduate of Saint Louis University and Northwestern.