California legislators bring back more bills on police conduct
California Assembly member Lorena Gonzalez, Democrat of San Diego. | Rich Pedroncelli/AP

As California lawmakers gathered in Sacramento Dec. 7 to take their oaths of office in socially distanced settings and prepare for the 2021-22 legislative session, members of the state Senate and Assembly also took the opportunity to introduce new legislation on many topics, and to reintroduce bills which hadn’t gotten all the way through the process in a schedule truncated by COVID-19.

Among those reintroducing legislation were authors of measures regulating policing who, after their bills didn’t reach the finish line, vowed they’d be back.

One was Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, author of a measure to create clear statewide standards on when law enforcement agencies could use projectile weapons and chemical agents during large gatherings, and to bar their use to disperse peaceful demonstrations.

Now known as Assembly Bill 48, the legislation would require that officers be trained in the safe use of such weapons and use other de-escalation techniques before employing projectiles or chemicals. It would also ban use of rubber bullets, beanbags, foam rounds, tear gas, pepper balls or pepper spray to disperse a peaceful protest.

These “less lethal” weapons caused serious injuries to several California protesters during Black Lives Matter demonstrations earlier this year.

“We need to establish a statewide standard for the use of projectile weapons and chemical agents to ensure peaceful protesters and journalists can exercise their First Amendment rights without risking serious injury,” Gonzalez said in a statement.

Another was Assemblymember Chris Holden, D-Pasadena, a member of the Legislative Black Caucus, who brought back his measure to establish clear guidelines for how law enforcement officers must respond under existing California law, if a fellow officer is using excessive force. Now identified as AB 26, it details ways to establish that an officer has tried to intercede and requires that officer to report use of excessive force to the watch commander or to dispatch. An officer who used excessive force resulting in great bodily injury or death, or failing to intercede in such an incident, would be disqualified from being a police officer.

“Given the widespread public outcry for police reforms right now, we have another opportunity for California to lead on this issue,” Holden said.

A new piece of law enforcement legislation, AB 89, introduced by Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer, D-South Los Angeles, would require new police and prison guard recruits to be age 25 or to have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution. (At present in California, an officer is only required to be 18 and to have a high school diploma or test equivalent.)

“My community, like many others, is all too familiar with police violence and physical force,” said Jones-Sawyer, who chairs the Assembly’s Public Safety Committee and is a member of the Legislative Black Caucus. “This data-driven bill relies on years of study and new understandings of brain development to ensure that only those officers capable of high-level decision-making and judgment in tense situations are entrusted with working our communities and correctional facilities.”

One of the last session’s most significant law enforcement-related measures was authored by state Senator Steven Bradford, D-Gardena, to create a statewide process to decertify a law enforcement officer following conviction of serious crimes or termination because of misconduct. California is one of only five states without such a process.

After the bill wasn’t voted on by the Assembly before the deadline, Bradford, who is vice-chair of the Legislative Black Caucus, and state Senate President Pro tempore Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, pledged to bring such legislation back in the next session.

The two have now introduced Senate Bill 2, to establish a decertification process and strengthen protections against law enforcement abuses and other civil rights violations.

Said Bradford, “California is able to revoke the certification or licenses of bad doctors, lawyers, teachers, and even barbers, but is unable to decertify police officers who have broken the law and violated the public trust. It is time for California to join the majority of the nation and create a process to decertify bad officers.”

Atkins added, “The goal of SB 2 is to improve public safety and protect our communities, particularly communities of color who are disproportionately impacted by police misconduct … We look forward to working closely with the California Legislative Black Caucus and other stakeholders to ensure this important bill becomes law, making our communities safe for all Californians.”

SB 2 is sponsored by a broad coalition of community organizations. Among them: Alliance for Boys and Men of Color, ACLU of California, Anti Police-Terror Project, Black Lives Matter Los Angeles, and Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice.

State Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, who chairs the Senate Public Safety Committee, announced last week she would reintroduce her far-reaching bill to further open public access to records of law enforcement officers who have engaged in biased or discriminatory behavior, conducted unlawful arrests or searches, or used excessive or unreasonable force.  The new measure builds on her SB 1421, itself a groundbreaking measure when it passed in 2018.

On Monday she introduced SB 16, which would ensure that officers with a history of misconduct can’t just resign, keep their records secret, move to another jurisdiction, and continue that misconduct. Law enforcement agencies couldn’t claim attorney-client privilege to get around an otherwise-proper records request, and even if an officer quits in the middle of an investigation, the probe would have to be completed. Agencies would be required to keep sustained records of misconduct indefinitely, and agencies wanting to hire an officer with law enforcement experience would have to obtain and review misconduct records.

The state Senate and Assembly will reconvene Jan. 4 to begin their legislative work for the new year.


CONTRIBUTOR

Marilyn Bechtel
Marilyn Bechtel

Marilyn Bechtel writes for People’s World from the San Francisco Bay Area. She joined the PW staff in 1986, and currently participates as a volunteer.

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