I was a trained prosecutor earlier in my legal career. I start there because I had the privilege of receiving much of the same “use of force” training that police officers receive. Every police officer and most prosecutors are trained on the “use of force continuum,” from mere physical presence, to verbal commands, to hand control, to baton and chemical force, and lastly, deadly force. Every situation is different. Every police officer is different. Escalated interactions take seconds for trained officers to react correctly so training and experience are key.
Additionally, district attorneys and internal affairs currently investigate officer misuse of force allegations. Invariably, they rely on evidence and testimony from other officers who have an interest in protecting their colleagues. This testimony often contradicts itself or lacks logic, or both. Without independent investigations or citizen review, conflicts of interest often exist when a district attorney prosecutes an officer whose cooperation may be needed in another case. Thus, officer testimony is frequently used to substantiate the claims that deadly force was reasonable and necessary. Victims end up taking the blame and then are further pathologized, dehumanized, and vilified by the local media. The public comes to see the victims, rather than the overreacting officer, as culpable for their own deaths.
Our communities are now replete with examples of excessive force cases. Citizens of color are statistically more likely to have escalated violence and brutality. For example, interactions with our Latino or African American citizens move to hand control almost instantly whereas white citizens receive extended presence and verbal commands. This is also statistically true in our North County communities.
Police officers must avoid using deadly force whenever possible. Common sense; right? 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 Assemblymember Shirley Weber (D-San Diego), will make clear that police officers should only use deadly force when they do not have other options. I have encouraged our Assembly to include an amendment that will require citizen review commissions for each police department’s internal affairs divisions. I support this legislation and urge you to make voice your support to our legislators when this bill arrives to the floor for a vote.
Alan Geraci, is a former candidate for State Assembly and is a consumer attorney.