California Lawmakers Promise to Set Rules for Police Use of Rubber Bullets Amid George Floyd Protests

June 4, 2020

California Lawmakers Promise to Set Rules for Police Use of Rubber Bullets Amid George Floyd Protests - (LA Times - June 4)

Alarmed at numerous reports that protesters in recent days have been seriously injured by rubber bullets fired by police officers, a group of California lawmakers said Thursday they will introduce legislation to set clear standards for when the projectiles can be used.

Four lawmakers proposed revising current policy on use of the projectiles in response to incidents reported throughout the country by those who have been protesting the death of George Floyd, who was killed when a Minneapolis police officer used his knee to pin Floyd’s neck to the ground.

Injured protesters include a Dallas man who said he lost his left eye after being hit by a so-called less-lethal projectile, according to the Dallas Morning News.

In California, protesters have been bloodied and bruised when hit with rubber bullets. This week, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said he had directed the LAPD to minimize the use of projectiles when dealing with peaceful protesters.

“No one who is simply exercising their right to protest should face possible injury or death because officers are indiscriminately firing rubber bullets into a crowd,” said Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), who was joined in announcing the legislation by Democratic Assembly members Shirley Weber of San Diego and Ash Kalra of San Jose, along with state Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco).

Although the legislation has not yet been drafted, comments by lawmakers indicated their goal is to curb the use of rubber bullets for crowd control against peaceful protesters and those breaking city-imposed curfews.

Gonzalez cited a 2017 study by researchers from schools including UC Berkeley that indicated 15% of people hit by rubber bullets were seriously injured, and some injuries were fatal.

The legislators said current regulations do not require manufacturers to keep records on injuries from their products in development, field trials or actual use.

The legislation, which has not yet been introduced, would also address lawmakers’ concerns that the state does not currently require law enforcement to collect data on injuries from rubber bullets or document their use of such projectiles, both issues that will be addressed in the legislation.

Currently, the state leaves it up to individual law enforcement agencies on whether to use rubber bullets or not, said Meagan Catafi, a spokeswoman for the state Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training.

The commission does have recommendations on crowd-control strategies, but they are general and cite court rulings, advising: “In all situations, the force used must be objectively reasonable under the totality of the circumstances.”

The California Police Chiefs Assn. has asked for the bill language when it is developed and will review it then, said Leslie McGill, executive director of the organization.

“Agencies should have policies guiding the use of such types of less-lethal force,” McGill said.

The lawmakers said they are developing the bill language based on what they are learning from the last week of protests.

“As lawmakers, we cannot stand by idly while people are being brutalized as they are exercising their free speech,” Kalra said. “Rubber bullets should not be used to suppress freedom of assembly, peaceful protest or to facilitate curfews and disperse people demonstrating.”