How Three California Cities Revamped Their Use-of-Force Policies

Police departments across the country are under pressure to revise their rules of engagement, especially when their cops are accused of overuse of force. This can be a challenge, as cities and departments seek to balance officer safety with due process rights and police accountability.

Three California cities can offer some guidance. As Governing notes, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Stockton all implemented new policies on use of force in the wake of officer shootings of unarmed individuals.

It took 20 years for L.A.’s overhaul to come to fruition. After a 2001 federal consent decree, the LAPD launched a new unit to analyze deadly force incidents. An administrative review is now always required when force is used and the department makes use-of-force reports available on its website.

In 2016, the U.S. Justice Department began a thorough analysis of policing in San Francisco. The city ended up implementing more than 100 DOJ recommendations, resulting in a 30% reduction in use-of-force incidents.

The Stockton Police Department partnered with the Urban Institute in 2015 to create a new plan for policing that prioritizes fairness, accountability, and transparency. Hundreds of officers have received new training on use of force and implicit bias. Fatal officer-involved shootings are down 30%.

In addition to local department overhauls, legislation that would alter definitions of reasonable use of force has just passed the California Legislature. On Monday, lawmakers approved Assembly Bill 392 which allows officers to fire their weapons only “when necessary in defense of human life.” The bill now heads to the governor's desk for signature.