- - Monday, September 2, 2019

Many years ago, when I was a crime reporter for a Philadelphia weekly newspaper, I attended the Philadelphia Police Department’s pilot session of the Civilian Police Academy and wrote an 11-part series on police training and operations.

Like actual police recruits, the civilian “recruits,” a collection of lawyers, clergy, community leaders and others, took a turn at the FireArms Training Simulator (FATS). The simulator put a stand-alone weapon in the recruits’ hand that interacted with a large-screen video scenario. One scenario had a man rush by the recruit, failing to heed the recruit’s order to stop. Following immediately, another man rushed out of the door with a handgun raised in the air. He stopped and said the first man had just robbed his store.  

Afterward, the sergeant asked me why I didn’t fire at the two men and I replied that the first man posed no threat as he rushed by, and the second man posed no threat as he had his gun pointed up in the air.

“Good,” the sergeant said. “That sweet, elderly woman before you “smoked” ’em both.”

FATS training is useful, then and now, as it helps to prepare the officer for scenarios he or she may encounter on the street when a split-second decision may mean life or death for them and others.  

Making split-second decisions on the street just got somewhat harder for police officers in California with the passing of AB 392, which California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law on Aug. 19.  

The measure would prohibit officers from using deadly force unless it is “necessary” to defend against an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury to officers or bystanders. The previous standard allowed officers to use deadly force if they had “reasonable” fear they or others are in imminent danger. Police critics believe that the previous standard made it highly unlikely that officers who use deadly force could be charged with murder and unlikely that juries would convict them.

According to the governor’s office, the bill enacts one of the strongest use-of-force laws in the country. 

“AB 392 modernizes standards for use of deadly force by officers. Specifically, this bill updates the existing deadly force to provide that deadly force may only be used when necessary. AB 392 also requires officers to use other techniques to address threats instead of using deadly force when safe to do so, encouraging law enforcement to train on and use de-escalation techniques like verbal persuasion and other crisis intervention methods.

“The provisions in AB 392 will be reflected in both law enforcement agency policy and officer training statewide and will further ensure that all officers in California are trained to a higher legal standard.”     

The ACLU of Southern California weighed in, stating that police officers should avoid using deadly force whenever possible. “But, right now, officers can legally use deadly force and kill someone even when they have other alternatives. AB 392: The California Act to Save Lives, introduced this year by Assembly member Shirley Weber (D-San Diego), will make clear that police officers should only use deadly force when necessary.” 

The police unions and organizations didn’t oppose the bill, as concessions were made, leading some police critics to call the revised bill “watered down.” Still, many rank-and-file officers are concerned. They are concerned that the bill will cause some officers to hesitate and that hesitation will cost them their life and the lives of others.

Many police officers across the nation are concerned about a slippery slope leading to more aggressive anti-cop bills that will “handcuff” police, especially during a time of more and more people resisting arrest and assaulting police officers in what some have called a “War on Cops.” Officers are also concerned about progressive district attorneys who are more likely to prosecute police officers.

Speaking before the Grand Lodge Fraternal Order of Police’s 64th National Biennial Conference on Aug. 12, Attorney General William Barr noted that from 2014 through 2017, there was a 20 percent increase in assaults against police. He also spoke of the emergence in some large cities of district attorneys who see themselves as social justice reformers and undercut the police and go easy on criminals.

In addition to the social-activist district attorneys, two Democratic presidential candidates, Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris, showed their bias by tweeting on the fifth anniversary of the police shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, that Michael Brown was “murdered” by the police, despite the overwhelming evidence that the officer was legally justified in the shooting death.

I would have liked to see the supporters of AB 392 step up to the FATS simulator. I’ll bet that the bad guys in the video scenario will smoke ‘em all.

• Paul Davis covers crime, espionage and terrorism.

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