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De-Policing California Law Enforcement

August 1, 2018
Tony Montoya - SFPOA President

How AB 931 will end proactive policing

The tragic events in Sacramento surrounding an Officer Involved Shooting (OIS), in March of this year have touched off an emotional and socio-political firestorm. I understand why, as do most people in law enforcement. The loss of any life affects everyone in the community. This is the very last thing that any cop ever wants to experience. But unfortunately, these nightmare OIS scenarios are always a possibility in this profession, and no one is ever prepared for the consequences.  This particular OIS also set off a rush by certain state legislators -- aiming to appease a small number of their constituents -- that has resulted in proposed legislation which, if passed, will place significant restraints on public safety statewide and locally.

California Assembly Bill 931, introduced by Assembly members Shirley Weber of San Diego and Kevin McCarty of Sacramento, is a direct deconstruction of the use of force standard that was established in the US with the 1989 unanimous Supreme Court ruling in Graham v. Connor. That ruling established the “objectively reasonable” standard in use of force situations for all peace officers in our country from Maine to Maui and from Fairbanks to Florida. Graham held “The ‘reasonableness’ of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer at the scene, rather than with 20/20 vision of hindsight.”

AB 931 would drastically alter the standard related to the use of force used by a peace officer by establishing a “necessary” standard. In layman’s terms this would mean that the actions by an officer using force could be and would be judged by individuals who were not at the scene of a critical incident, who never had faced such an encounter in a rapidly fluid life or death situation, who never went through any formal training, and who never ever had to face or make a split second decision to save their own life or the lives of others. We all know what this is called. It is “Monday morning quarterbacking (MMQ)” and those Monday morning quarterbacks are ALWAYS right, in their own minds, and others are ALWAYS wrong.

In our profession, accountability to the community is a vital component of public safety. Police officers have never sought a free pass when it comes to use of force. If an officer’s actions fall outside of Graham, then he or she must be held accountable. The POA stands by that. But if this draconian change in the use of force doctrine is passed, it will actually have a negative effect in our communities. Officers will second guess every action, they will hesitate taking any action in almost all situations, and eventually avoid any type of pro-active policing for fear of being subjected to discipline or prosecution. Law suit-shy officers will focus on self-preservation rather than pro-active enforcement of law. They will fear being unfairly judged on what was “necessary” to a MMQ rather than what any cop in a similar situation would consider reasonable.

There is a reason why the SFPOA along with all law enforcement associations in California and the California Chiefs of Police oppose this measure. It is short sighted and fueled by emotions.  It is driven by the political aftermath of a tragic incident. The POA has taken exception to Senator Scott Weiner’s endorsement of this measure, and we have sent a letter in opposition (see page 5) to him. Please join us by going to the link and voicing your opposition.