Eureka police officers along with county mental health personnel responded to a standoff at a Eureka residence recently that served as an example of how the use of de-escalation techniques kept a possibly violent situation from becoming deadly. (EPD — contributed)

A measure that will change when law enforcement officers in the state of California can use deadly force will go into effect in 2020 after it was signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday.

Newsom signed Assembly Bill 392, a measure that establishes new standards for the use of force to be used only when it is “necessary in defense of human life” and no other alternatives are available — a change from the current standard where an officer may deem the use of deadly force “reasonable.”

A second bill, Senate Bill 230, will allow the Commission for the Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) to distribute $450,000 in funding to help local departments develop new training standards.

“I see this as a positive thing in terms of further solidifying de-escalation techniques and using new tools and new techniques to make sure our officers have as may tools as possible available to them,” said Arcata Police Chief Brian Ahearn. “Policing is a profession and we are professionals. As professionals, we are tasked with preserving human life and we are doing everything we can to preserve human life. We need to continue to look forward and be contemporary about how we utilize the different force options that may be necessary to protect the community.”

The use of force legislation was initially introduced by its primary author, Assemblymember Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, in 2018 following the fatal police shooting of a Sacramento man.

“As AB 392 originally existed it was a terrible bill and out of touch from the reality officers face every day,” said Eureka Police Chief Steve Watson. “The good news is both sides were able to go through extensive meetings and discussions, find a consensus and put together a bill law enforcement could get behind.”

The package of AB 392 and SB 230 will require that every California law enforcement officer receive the most robust training in the nation strictly designed to minimize the use of force.

The bills will set specific policy requirements on de-escalation, rendering medical aid and the proportional use of force. The bills will also require standardized reporting of all use of force incidents and that use of force policies and training standards are considered in legal proceedings.

“This doesn’t change anything for EPD,” Watson said. “This is designed to minimize the use of force and there are situations where better use of tactics of de-escalation may have avoided an officer-involved shooting. We’ve actually moved beyond the trial point and we just sent our first batch of officers to ICAT (Integrating Communications, Assessment and Tactics) training in May. The course taught the attendees and they can then go back to their agencies and train other personnel.”

Personnel from other agencies also took part in the training and a total of 36 local law enforcement personnel — including police officers and corrections deputies, dispatchers and probation personnel — went through the training program.

The focus is on assessing a situation and applying de-escalation techniques if possible to keep an incident from becoming violent, according to Watson. Whether it’s a person involved in a mental health crisis as happened last week in Eureka or maybe a suicidal subject, knowing how to properly assess a situation makes it safer for all involved.

“We had a barricaded suspect last week wanted for felony assault who wouldn’t communicate with us,” Watson said. “We could have rushed in and tried to corner her and we would have been justified. But that would increase the risk of use of force. So we slowed things down. We brought in mental health, we got a warrant, we put a plan in place and explored all our less-than-lethal options. We didn’t move until we had checked all those boxes. The de-escalation tends to work best in mental health incidents rather than strictly criminal ones.”

Watson pointed out the difference between an officer responding to a person suffering from a mental health crisis and an officer pulling over a suspected stolen car where guns would be drawn due to the nature of the scenario. Watson said Eureka officers probably draw their service weapons several times throughout the week and most shifts don’t go by without an officer drawing their service weapon.

The last major incident in which Eureka officers discharged their service weapons was in December 2016 when officers chased down Clayton Lasinski who was allegedly driving a stolen car and who was armed with a firearm while speeding through downtown Eureka.

“If you’re armed with a weapon or you’re in a stolen car or you’re burglarizing a house you can expect to have a weapon pointed at you until we can determine you are not a threat,” Watson said. “We don’t just point guns at people who may be arguing with us. This is a huge topic and the last thing an officer wants to do is injure or kill someone. This is important to us. We’re members of the community and we want to give back to the community.”

According to Arcata Police Department Lt. Bart Silvers, APD personnel are also prepared for the new laws and the training has already begun.

“The Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) currently requires four hours of Crisis Intervention Training during a new officers Field Training Program. All of our officers receive an additional 40 hours crisis intervention training (CIT) to better equip them when dealing with an individual who may be in crisis,” said Silvers.

“In addition, we recently purchased a Mobile Options Simulator and are currently developing a curriculum that encompasses officer judgment, de-escalation and Use of Force,” Silvers added. “The Arcata Police Department has always placed great value on an officer’s ability to communicate and our goal is to provide them with state-of-the-art training that will give them the tools to most effectively do their job.”

At the bill-signing ceremony on Monday, Newsom said he signed the law because there needs to be a better understanding of when use of force is justified and necessary.

“The bottom line is deadly force should only be used when absolutely necessary,” Newsom said in a statement released after the signing.

Dan Squier can be reached at 707-441-0528. 

blog comments powered by Disqus