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California Passes Law to Deter Police Shootings

California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law a measure this week designed to deter police officers from using fatal force on the job.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law a measure this week designed to deter police officers from using fatal force on the job. Shutterstock

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Connecting state and local government leaders

STATE AND LOCAL ROUNDUP | Kentucky’s governor and lieutenant governor face off in court … Dallas mayor forms task force to find solutions for violent crime … Baltimore city council passes new ethics laws.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law a measure this week designed to deter police officers from using fatal force on the job. The use of deadly force is now allowed in situations that are “necessary” to protect against imminent threat of death or harm. Before the state law allowed officers to use deadly force when it was “reasonable.” The new law takes effect at the start of 2020, and also allows prosecutors to consider the actions of an officer leading up to a shooting, and bars officers from shooting at people fleeing from them unless they pose an immediate danger. Democratic state Rep. Shirley Weber, the bill’s author, said that the law is meant to encourage officers to use de-escalation tactics in crisis, especially when they deal with people of color, who are more often the victims of police brutality. “For 400 years, people of color have often had a different kind of justice in this nation. After 400 years of demonstrating our commitment and humanity to this nation, we deserve fairness and justice. With the Governor’s signature, we are closer to a culture of policing in California that values and preserves human life,” Weber said. Newsom echoed similar feelings, saying the bill, which is named for Stephon Clark, an unarmed black man shot by Sacramento police in his backyard last year, is designed to heal communities and increase transparency for the police. The bill passed with bipartisan support, but activists for victims of police brutality and their families said the new law became too watered down after police unions won concessions that weakened the language of the bill. Before, the text had included a specific definition of “necessary” situations for use of force, but that language was removed, along with a clause requiring officers to exhaust all nonlethal methods before resorting to deadly force. That change didn’t lead to police support for the bill, but the unions representing them stopped resisting and took a neutral stance instead. Even with the changes, many activists are pleased, including Samuel Sinyangwe, a researcher who has catalogued use of force policies for police across the country.  “[This bill] is likely to save lives and significantly reduce police violence in the state. Use-of-force policies have a direct impact on the likelihood that police will use force, including police shootings,” Sinyangwe said. [Associated Press; CBS Los Angeles; Mother Jones]

KENTUCKY GOVERNOR | Kentucky Lieutenant Gov. Jenean Hampton filed a lawsuit against Gov. Matt Bevin seeking the reinstatement of her two assistants who were fired by Bevin’s administration without her approval. Hampton said she cannot continue her work with such a small staff. “Who in their right mind would decide it's a good thing to leave a sitting, active lieutenant governor with one staffer and carve off the people who were instrumental in helping her serve Kentucky?" she said. But Steve Pitt, the attorney for Bevin, said that Hampton’s job does not require assistance. "How is there irreparable injury when the lieutenant governor's only duties are to attend nine board meetings? She has no other duties and responsibilities that have been proven in this record other than to stay alive in the event that the governor passes away,” he said. Both politicians are Republicans and ran together on the same ticket four years ago, but Bevin has dropped Hampton from his 2019 reelection ticket. Still, Hampton says she supports his campaign. When asked if the lawsuit will affect his chances of winning, she said, "I don't know. The person who initiated these firings should have thought of that before doing so." [WMKY; Associated Press

VIOLENT CRIME TASK FORCE | Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson announced the formation of a task force meant to gather feedback and solutions for preventing violent crime in the city. Johnson selected three community leaders for the task force, because he said police are already overwhelmed. “We can’t ask or expect law enforcement to do it all. To paraphrase one of our former police chiefs, we already ask cops to do too much. Police have to be social workers. They have to deal with mental health and drug addiction and cycles of abuse. And we’ve asked law enforcement to do all of these things in an environment where illegal guns are far too easy for criminals to obtain,” he said. Alan Cohen, the president of the Child Poverty Action Lab and a member of the new task force said that he believes the task force can make a big difference. To achieve lasting impact on issues as complex as crime and public safety, I believe strongly in taking an inclusive approach that combines the use of data-driven insights with the lived-experience of community members. So I look forward to hearing from citizens and stakeholders seeking actionable solutions to improve safety for all Dallas residents,” Cohen said. [CBS Dallas Fort Worth; Dallas Observer]

ETHICS RULES | The Baltimore City Council has preliminarily approved new ethics rules following the scandal surrounding former mayor Catherine Pugh, who allegedly used her influence to sell a series of children’s books she wrote, and the indictment of former police commissioner Darryl De Sousa, who failed to file federal taxes. The new legislation allocates more resources to the city Board of Ethics and expands the net of city employees who have to file financial disclosure documents. The legislation passed the council unanimously, but still must come back for a final vote. Councilman Ryan Dorsey said that the fact that Pugh did not disclose her business ties to the city pushed him to vote for the bill. “Over time, it became clear we needed to improve certain things over what was being disclosed. The concern that arose with me is how someone who obviously is required to file a financial disclosure fails to do so and then how does the city fail to hold them accountable and get them to file when they fail,” he said. [Baltimore Sun; CBS Baltimore]

HOTEL BAN | The city council of Eureka, California is considering a temporary ban on the construction of new hotels in the city. The proposal was brought to the council by a local hotel owner who said that the development of new hotels would cause existing ones to suffer. The proposed ban on construction would last for two years, which is the maximum allowed by law. Councilmembers are split on the benefits of the plan. “It’s a challenge because on the one hand, the free market is so important, so important. And on the other hand, so is protecting our business owners and working with them. I’m just not clear that a moratorium is the way out,” said Councilmember Kim Bergel. Rob Holmlun, the city’s director of development services, said that implementing the moratorium would require some evidence that hotel construction presents a threat to public safety or welfare. “Moratoriums are not treated lightly by state law,” Holmlund said. One hotel owner asked, in addition to the moratorium, for the council to address the city’s homelessness problem, which he said has caused occupancy rates to decline. “It’s my opinion that the City Council really should address this homeless situation. I think it would only improve the perception that our guests have,” the owner said. Councilmember Leslie Castellano said that the council should address homelessness before the moratorium. “At some point, we need to prioritize a homeless plan and this is one way of doing that. An initial moratorium is only for 45 days. Ultimately, one new hotel is not going to make a huge difference for the population of Eureka. Doing what we can for this community will,” she said. [Eureka Times-Standard; Lost Coast Outpost]

Emma Coleman is the assistant editor for Route Fifty. 

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