Treating the good guys as the bad guys

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Recruits get ready for the swearing-in ceremony of incoming Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes in Tustin on Monday, January 7, 2019. (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Recruits get ready for the swearing-in ceremony of incoming Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes in Tustin on Monday, January 7, 2019. (Photo by Mindy Schauer, Orange County Register/SCNG)


By: Assemblyman Tyler Diep and Orange County Sheriff-Coroner Don Barnes on April 27, 2019

Imagine coming home from work one day to discover that the front door of your home is open. You don’t know why the door is open so you enter. As you begin to look inside, you realize that your home is not the way you left it as several things are out of place. Then you hear someone else is inside. And in your gut, you know that they heard you too. What do you do?

You have several options. The safest and smartest thing to do would be to leave and call 911 right away. You can also remain inside and yell “Is anyone there?” to try and find out who is in your home. You can run to a neighbor and ask whether they have seen or heard anything unusual from your home. In this hypothetical situation, you have many factors to assess before deciding on which option to proceed with.

Most likely, we can assume that this story is a prelude to discovering a home burglary. This scenario is used because it is something that can be experienced by the average citizen. However, this exercise was not just to relive a burglary that we may have experienced before.

The scenario above is important because depending on what you choose to do, it requires you to make a critical, split-second decision. What if you thought a family member was playing a game and innocently yelled “Is anyone there?” in the middle of a burglary? You could have unknowingly walked into a dangerous situation. Can you imagine what would happen next?

This example is just a taste of what our law enforcement officers go through on a daily basis. They run into situations where they are unaware of all the facts, the environment, and the situation they are in — all for the sake of saving lives. Moreover, we can all agree that this story is nowhere close to situations police officers find themselves in that are more dangerous and life threatening.

Earlier this month, the Assembly Public Safety Committee heard Assembly Bill 392. This proposal would change a use of force standard set by the United States Supreme Court over 30 years ago. In Graham v. Connor, the court determined that law enforcement can use deadly force when it is “objectively reasonable.” AB392 proposes a new standard based on whether the action was necessary.

Many may think that this is just a minor change replacing one word. However, it is very consequential. This change shifts the standard from what is reasonable at the time of the incident to one that examines an officer’s actions with all the information known after the incident occurred. This added nuance exposes officers to the scrutiny of those who are all too eager to judge split second decisions through the lens of hindsight. This standard discourages officers from taking action when they may be needed most. By contrast, the current standard recognizes the split second nature of the decisions officers are required to make. A moment of hesitation can have deadly consequences. AB392 undermines an officer’s judgment and ability to perform their duties.

We both have never met a police officer who began their day expecting to take another life. Rather, police officers share with us that their families pray and hope every day that they return home in one piece.

We should place ourselves in the officers’ shoes. We agree that there is always room for improvement and refinement of best practices to prevent any loss of life. However, AB392 is the wrong answer. It does not codify any proven training techniques or provide tools for our men and women in uniform. The California Police Chiefs Association, the California State Sheriffs Association, along with numerous police officers associations throughout the state are opposed to this bill. Let’s work with all stakeholders, fund more training, and let the professionals do their job in protecting us. Let’s not treat the good guys as if they were the bad ones.

Tyler Diep represents the 72nd District in the state Assembly. Don Barnes is the Orange County Sheriff.