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Citrus Heights council votes 5-0 to oppose AB 392 use-of-force bill

Sentinel staff report–
Citrus Heights City Council members, with some reservations and caveats, voted unanimously on Thursday to officially oppose controversial statewide legislation known as AB 392 that seeks to narrow the circumstances for when police officers can use deadly force. The council also voted 5-0 to support a law enforcement-backed bill, Senate Bill 230, which would refine use-of-force standards and provide for more officer training.

The pair of resolutions voted on by the council were drafted by Citrus Heights Police Chief Ron Lawrence at the prior recommendation of Councilman Bret Daniels. Lawrence, who was elected president of the California Police Chiefs Association last month, has taken an active role at the state capitol regarding use-of-force legislation.

Related: Citrus Heights police chief elected to head statewide advocacy group

“AB 392 simply makes it easier to prosecute police officers without providing the training they need to change,” Lawrence told council members during the April 11 meeting. “An officer could be criminalized for trying to do a very dangerous job.”

AB 392, authored by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber (D-San Diego) with the backing of the American Civil Liberties Union, has undergone several amendments, but retains a key provision to only allow police to use deadly force when “necessary” to prevent imminent death or serious injury.

SB 230 would retain the current standard of “reasonable,” rather than the heightened standard of “necessary,” but would mandate and fund use-of-force training. Amended wording to the proposed legislation calls for “a requirement that officers utilize deescalation techniques, crisis intervention teams, tactics, and other alternatives to force when feasible.”

Vice Mayor Jeff Slowey said the change in wording from “reasonable” to “necessary” would “not do anything but [set] this up for the trial attorneys to have a better chance to prosecute police officers and find them guilty.”

Councilwoman Porsche Middleton initially expressed some reservation about whether the council should move forward with support or opposition to the bills. She said she attended the state assembly’s April 9 hearing on AB 392 and noted recent changes and clarifications to the bill, and also said she had not yet seen recent changes to SB 230 that had been made public only hours before Thursday’s council meeting.

“I would like to see that language written and see that bill analysis before we even move forward,” said Middleton.

David Warren, the only speaker from the public to address the council during public comment on the item, also expressed similar concern. He told the council “the bill as it appeared [during the assembly’s April 9 hearing] is not going to be the bill that goes to the assembly floor, and you may dearly regret your action tonight if you don’t wait until you see the final bill.”

Chief Lawrence as well as Councilman Daniels rejected the concerns. Daniels said it would be “miraculous” for AB 392 to have any substantive change, and Lawrence said the bill could move to the assembly floor rapidly and therefore needed immediate action from the City Council.

At the prompting of Mayor Jeannie Bruins, the council ultimately voted to take their position on each bill “as it is written today.” Middleton, along with the other council members, voted to support a resolution endorsing SB 230 and a separate resolution opposing AB 392 — although Middleton’s vote was with a caveat.

“I will support the Senate Bill (230) with the caveat that our chief of police uses his standing as the statewide president of [Cal Chiefs] to have open conversations on both sides of the aisle to ensure that our community and our officers achieve the best solution possible,” she said. “This bill will change, and it’s important to build bridges within our community.”

Other council members also noted their votes were not without reservation.

Slowey said he would support SB 230 as a less-than-perfect bill, but said “it’s a heck of a lot better than the other piece of garbage,” referring to AB 392.

Councilman Steve Miller said both bills were “just a political response to a tragic event,” but said he would vote along with the council to express his opposition to AB 392.

“I really don’t support either bill,” said Miller. “I don’t think either one is necessary. I think training is a part of what we do every day. I don’t know that we have to codify that.”

AB 392 passed the assembly’s Public Safety Committee in a 6-2 vote on April 9, following several hours of testimony. It has now been sent to the Assembly Rules Committee. SB 230 has not yet been heard in committee.

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