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California may adjust standards for police use of force

After police officers shot and killed an unarmed 22-year-old man, Stephon Clark, activists and local politicians throughout the state have called for revisions to the California Peace Officer's Bill of Rights, or POBR. The POBR governs disciplinary action involving police officers.

State lawmakers have introduced two bills related to the use of officer force. SB 1421 would increase transparency of police records, opening officers' disciplinary records regarding dishonesty, sexual assault and use of force to the public and hiring agencies. AB 931 would tighten the standard for when officers may use deadly force.

When should officers use deadly force?

Under current California law, officers may use deadly force when they have a "reasonable fear." AB 931 would only allow officers to use deadly force when it is "necessary." Officers would be encouraged to de-escalate and could face discipline for reaching for a gun when it is found to be unnecessary.

In addition to determining how officers are held accountable for the use of deadly force, the proposed changes might have implications for victims of police violence and their families. If officers are found to have acted improperly, victims and their families could have more support for personal injury or wrongful death claims stemming from officer shootings.

An uphill battle for legislation

Despite a tremendous wave of support from activists and protestors, these bills are not without opposition. The Peace Officers Research Association of California and other powerful police unions have come out firmly against the bills, and state politicians may be hesitant to appear hostile to police interests.

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