Fresno police unions back alternative use of force bill, amid calls for reform

Unions associated with Fresno’s two main law enforcement agencies Thursday called for support of a statewide plan they believe will make California safer by getting more guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill.

Supporters of the bill, Senate Bill 230, said it would also enhance training for peace officers who are often first responders in a mental health crisis.

Members of the Fresno Police Officers Association and the Fresno Deputy Sheriff’s Association joined Lolita Harper of Protect California at a press conference calling for support of SB 230 — while also advocating opposition to Assembly Bill 392.

Both bills would make changes to California’s use of lethal force law, first enacted in the 1800s. How those bills go about making those changes, however, is a strong point of contention between law enforcement and their critics.

The use of lethal force by police has come under intense scrutiny in recent years.

AB 392 was proposed last year in the wake of the shooting death of Stephon Clark by Sacramento police. The legislation stalled after strong opposition from police.

Law enforcement groups argue that AB 392 overreaches by taking “punitive action” against police thorough the use of hindsight. Meanwhile, supporters of AB 392 say it’s much needed to cut down on the number of deadly shootings by police.

“In our humble opinion, we believe (AB 392) is not a real solution to saving lives,” Harper said. “It does nothing to reduce the lives that could or would be lost in uses of force. It does nothing to address the key causes of violence in our communities, which again lead to increased uses of force.”

Harper, a former San Bernardino detective, during a Thursday press conference said Protect California takes a multi-level approach to public safety. SB 230 was introduced by Senator Anna Caballero (D-Merced), and AB 392 was introduced by Shirley Weber, (D-San Diego).

SB 230 would require law enforcement agencies to maintain a policy that “provides guidelines on the use of force, utilizing deescalation techniques and other alternatives to force when feasible,” and contain specific guidelines for the “application of deadly force.” The policy would also mandate “regular and periodic” training on the use of force.

In contrast, language in Weber’s bill would allow use of lethal force in self-defense or the defense of another, or to prevent the escape of a fleeing felon “whose immediate apprehension is necessary to prevent death or serious injury.”

Weber’s bill would bar the use of lethal force if an officer “acted in a criminally negligent manner that caused the death.” That could mean a lower bar for criminal prosecution of a law enforcement officer. Opponents of Weber’s bill believe that might endanger public safety by causing police officers to hesitate or avoid a life-and-death situation.

However, Joe Kocurek, Weber’s communications director, said many of the claims made by critics of AB 392 are patently false.

“Their bill basically maintains the status quo, our bill changes the standard under which law enforcement can use force,” Kocurek said. “We have given law enforcement a lot of time to address this issue and only a handful of agencies have addressed their use of force. At this point, it is time for a statewide standard.”

Kocurek said AB 392 is not punitive against law enforcement and has the support of police policy experts, the U.S. Department of Justice and reflects recommendations made by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to the city of Sacramento.

Harper, of Protect California, said the group is also seeking $300 million to enhance mental health crisis training for police officers. Protect California also argues that $2 billion allocated by Prop. 63, passed in 2004 to enhance mental health services funding, went unspent.

During the press conference, Todd Frazier of the Fresno Police Officers Association and Isaac Torres, of the Fresno Deputy Sheriff’s Association, also called for a more robust state Armed Prohibited Person System.

Under the APPS system, state Department of Justice officers travel the state taking firearms away from the mentally ill and those whose gun rights have been taken away, including convicted felons.

They argue the 50 DOJ officers now charged with the task cannot effectively confiscate weapons from an estimated 22,000 people in violation of California’s gun laws.

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