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Police Chief On California Bill Restricting When Police Can Fire Weapons


California introduced a new bill last week that would restrict when officers can shoot. At the moment, police can shoot if they have a reasonable fear for their safety. Under this proposed legislation, officers would only be allowed to use force when necessary. That means officers could only shoot if there were no other alternatives. The bill's introduction comes a month after a police shooting in Sacramento killed a 22-year-old, unarmed black man, Stephon Clark. But many police chiefs statewide are still opposing the bill. One of those chiefs is Ronald Lawrence of Citrus Heights in Sacramento County. Welcome to the program.

RONALD LAWRENCE: Thank you, Lulu.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So this bill comes with a statistic. One hundred sixty-two people were fatally shot by police last year in California, only half of whom had guns. And that's according to lawmakers. There's clearly a problem. Why isn't this a solution?

LAWRENCE: Well, let me start by saying that it's important to understand that policing is a very dangerous profession. When a police officer encounters anyone with a lawful authority to detain, compliance is expected and required by California law. And I will say this. Any loss of life is a tragedy, and how we can improve that is something we're always interested in and willing to talk about.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But sir, what we've seen in so many instances is unarmed people, perhaps, carrying things that might look like weapons or complying but because of the police, worried about their own safety, reacting with deadly force. I mean, there have been many occasions in which that has happened

LAWRENCE: Yeah. You mentioned a statistic earlier. I think it was 162 or something like that. Albeit tragic, we don't want to see anybody shot. Or we don't even want to see force used. But when police respond to calls for service in the United States, there are millions and millions of calls that we respond to that you never hear about because they're handled very successfully, and force was not used. And there are thousands and thousands of arrests made every year. Unfortunately, use of force and, unfortunately, the use of deadly force is sometimes a part of our job to protect people and to protect ourselves. So many police citizen contacts result in noncompliant suspects who choose to act violently. It's always left out of the public narrative. But it's important and extremely important to really understand what led up to those circumstances. Now, that's not to say that the actual use of force is not highly scrutinized, and it should be. We want it to be.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The ultimate problem many see is that these shootings specifically of unarmed black men have damaged important relationships with the communities police are meant to serve. How do you repair that relationship without at least signaling your openness to consider new methods?

LAWRENCE: Well, certainly, we are open to new methods. We're always open to new training and making sure that we have the best equipment, the best tools for us to use. Now, community trust of their police - that is a local issue. And it's the responsibility of the police chief and the police department and the community to come together and constantly have a working narrative that they can learn to trust each other. The truth is the police are the people. The community are the police. And so we have to - we must work as one to keep crime at bay.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Ronald Lawrence is the chief of police in Citrus Heights, Calif., and the vice president of the California Police Chiefs Association. Thank you very much.

LAWRENCE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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