The members of the California Legislature were sworn in to kick off the new two-year session on December 3, and our statewide executive officers took office on or around January 7. PORAC was able to personally attend or send representatives to several of those swearing-in ceremonies. Vice President Damon Kurtz and I were present for the inauguration of Governor Gavin Newsom in Sacramento. Listening to the speeches by the leaders of California, I reflected on how difficult the atmosphere for public safety was in the Legislature last year and what that means for the road ahead.
Unfortunately, I anticipate that 2019 will be just as bad as 2018, or even worse when it comes to public safety. At the top of our list of concerns is the impending use-of-force legislation. Thankfully, Assembly Bill (AB) 931 did not make it out of the Rules Committee last year, but it will be revisited this year. PORAC is working very hard to ensure that we have a seat at the table and are part of the conversation to try to direct how any legislation on this topic will look. As I’m sure you are all aware by now, the advocates for AB 931 want to raise the standard for use of force above and beyond what was set by the Supreme Court in Graham v. Connor, from “reasonable” to “necessary.” In effect, this would create the expectation that you use all other means at your disposal before utilizing deadly force — even to the extent of getting in your vehicle and driving away! It must be said that I’ve yet to meet a law enforcement professional who wants to be involved in a shooting. However, I think it’s outrageous to give all of the legal advantage to the individuals who are trying to kill us when we are simply reacting to their escalation of violence. If the proponents of this dangerous measure were to achieve their goal, public safety would take a dramatic turn for the worse. Case in point: Chicago! I doubt those communities are happy with the daily carnage of murder and mayhem thanks to the ACLU.
Every member of our profession throughout the state needs to realize that they must become involved in this issue. I continue to urge all our members, family and friends to write or call your elected officials and let them know about your concerns. This proposed law would create a situation where any use of force could lead to an officer being criminally prosecuted, civilly sued or terminated from their job for trying to defend their lives or somebody else’s. All it would take is a use-of-force expert to say they would have handled it differently! No incident is ever the same, and for this reason, we will continue to fight this battle to preserve your safety and that of the public we’ve sworn to protect and serve. For additional information, please listen to my recently released podcast episode on this subject at PORAC.org/podcast.
As I write this, we’re mourning the news that three law enforcement officers were assassinated in the span of just five days across the U.S.: Shreveport Officer Chatéri Payne, who was shot outside her home while heading to work; Birmingham Sergeant Wytasha Carter, who was shot while investigating a vehicle burglary call; and right here in California, Davis Officer Natalie Corona, who was shot while responding to a traffic collision. In addition, we’ve seen two close calls where the officers survived only because a perpetrator’s weapon misfired — one in Sacramento in January and another in Illinois last year, from which the dash-cam footage was recently released. (Watch that video on the PORAC Facebook page if you haven’t already; it’s a sobering sight.)
These incidents show how rapidly events can evolve in our line of work, and how so much can go wrong in a split second. We’re already at a severe disadvantage in the face of such senseless acts of violence, and AB 931 would make the situation even worse. Those pushing this measure capitalize on the media’s perpetuation of the myth that deadly use of force by peace officers goes unpunished and is out of control — when the reality is, in a state of nearly 40 million people, of the millions of contacts that occurred between police and individuals last year, deadly force was involved in just 114 incidents. I think our profession is doing an incredible job. We will continually push for the necessary resources to make our profession safer, which in turn makes our communities safer. With that said, we’re pleased that the governor’s new budget gives POST an increase of $14.9 million from the General Fund, plus an additional $20 million for de-escalation and mental health crisis training. POST has been so underfunded for many years, it is nice to see the tide turning the other way.
Please, be safe out there and cover your partners. We extend our deepest condolences to all of the families, friends and colleagues of the officers we have lost in the line of duty. Their sacrifice will never be forgotten.