Ad watch: Police use-of-force ads lack context as major bill heads toward hearing

Courage Campaign launched two police use-of-force ads this week urging lawmakers to pass Assembly Bill 392 before the controversial bill is scheduled to withstand its first committee hearing on Tuesday.

AB 392 by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, could revolutionize the way police officers use deadly force on the job. The proposal updates the “reasonable” deadly force standard to a “necessary” requirement, with a criminal liability aspect attached to it.

Public support for the bill has strengthened in recent weeks, following the Sacramento County district attorney’s decision not to indict officers who shot and killed Stephon Clark in March 2018.

The ads feature footage from ensuing protests in Sacramento and photos of Clark with his family. The officers shot Clark in his grandmother’s backyard after getting a call about car break-ins in the neighborhood. The department said officers shot Clark, a 22-year-old black man, because they believed he had a gun and feared for their lives.

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Below is the text of the ad and our analysis:


“So many unnecessary deaths. It’s time for a policy that focuses on preserving life. Assembly Bill 392 will save lives by training officers to use lethal force only when necessary to protect themselves or others from death or harm. Officers would be trained to use de-escalation tactics that have a track record of success to keep our communities safer and to save lives, with no increased risk to officers or public safety. For fewer, unnecessary deaths, for safer communities, Assembly Bill 392.”


The ads lack important context, including the fact that law enforcement groups oppose the measure because it codifies a “necessary” standard for use of force that leaves officers vulnerable to discipline, civil action and criminal prosecution.

Though the ad promises “no increased risk” to officers’ or public safety, law enforcement officials argue that potential disciplinary action could lead officers to second-guess themselves when making critical, split-second decisions.

The ad also fails to mention that the California Police Chiefs Association has its own proposal, Senate Bill 230, authored by state Sen. Anna Caballero, a Democrat from Salinas. SB 230 requires cities across the state to maintain use-of-force policies and emphasizes training in their departments, a point the law enforcement organization Protect California has reiterated in ads and digital campaigns to rally support for the measure.

Eddie Kurtz, executive director for Courage Campaign, said that the ads supporting AB 392 will continue running next week, when the hearing for the bill is scheduled in the Committee on Public Safety. Each ad, one in Sacramento and another in Los Angeles urging Assemblyman Miguel Santiago to vote for the bill, cost the campaign about $10,000. Santiago told The Sacramento Bee he plans to vote for it.

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.