California Governor Signs ‘Stephon Clark Law’ to Limit Police Use of Force


Black Lives Matter protesters hold candles during a vigil and demonstration on March 23, 2018 in Sacramento, California.Photo: Justin Sullivan (Getty Images)

In its efforts to deter police shootings and change the culture of its police departments, California has officially adopted one of the strictest laws in the country regarding police use of deadly force.

The Los Angeles Times reports that on Monday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 392 into law.

“We are doing something today that stretches the boundary of possibility and sends a message to people all across this country that they can do more and they can do better to meet this moment,” Newsom said, while surrounded by families who have been directly affected by police violence.

From the Los Angeles Times:

The new language will require that law enforcement use deadly force only when “necessary,” instead of the current wording of when it is “reasonable.” In large urban law enforcement departments that already train for de-escalation and crisis intervention, day-to-day policing will probably not noticeably change.

The law also prohibits police from firing on fleeing felons who don’t pose an immediate danger, an update from California’s original code that dates back to 1872.

Under this new standard, prosecutors will be able to consider the actions of both police officers and their victims leading up to a deadly encounter in order to accurately determine if “the officer acted within the scope of law, policy, and training.” This is a significant change from current law, in which prosecutors may only consider the exact moment that lethal force was used to determine if an officer acted within the boundaries of the law.

To the surprise of no one, law enforcement organizations wanted no parts of this bill when it was first introduced earlier this year. But after months of negotiations, they withdrew their opposition after the bill was amended to their liking, the LA Times reports.

“The bill is watered down, everybody knows that,” Stevante Clark, brother of Stephon Clark, told the Los Angeles Times. “But at least we are getting something done. At least we are having the conversation now.”

Whether AB 392 will reduce racial bias while simultaneously making more police officers subject to prosecution remains to be seen, but as the Los Angeles Times notes, if non-lethal methods are reinforced by police departments there should be a reduction in the amount of lethal use-of-force incidents overall.

Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, who authored the bill, described AB 392 as an “aggressive effort to retrain our officers and change the culture of police.”

“This will make a difference not only in California but we know it will make a difference around the world,” Weber said.

“This is Stephon Clark’s law,” Stevante Clark said. “The cost, the price that had to be paid for this, it hurts. […] I hate that this had to come out of such a tragic situation, but at the same time, it helps the healing process to know his name could possibly prevent something like this from happening again.”

The law will go into effect in January.