California lawmakers had less than two hours late Monday to pass three key laws aimed at increasing law enforcement accountability.
SB776 provides the public with new access to records of police use of violence and disciplinary action related to racist, homophobic or other discriminatory acts by officials. According to AB1506, the attorney general must lead investigations into deaths by law enforcement agencies and decide whether the officers involved have acted lawfully or should be prosecuted. Proponents say this will give the public more confidence that fatal police actions will be fairly investigated. And AB1196 would prohibit police officers from using the controversial tactic known as carotid restriction.
The action came as the clock tapped on Monday on the last day of the legislature, and important and controversial bills aimed at curbing police power over time were on the table.
Some of the police reform laws adopted by the Senate and State Assembly during Monday's marathon ground sessions took direct inspiration from the Minneapolis police assassination of George Floyd, and from critics as a persistent law enforcement response to the massive protests, that triggered them. Others have long been wanted by civil liberties activists and groups who say California has historically been too respectful of law enforcement agencies.
Police unions and other law enforcement agencies have vigorously protested many of the bills proposed after Floyd's murder, claiming they were being neglected through the law.
SB776 strengthens 2018 legislation, written by Senator Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, that gives the public access to records of police shootings, officer sexual misconduct, and dishonesty. Legislation will tighten disclosure requirements under the Skinner Act of 2018, with several provisions intended to force the hands of agencies that have resisted requests to hand over records.
AB1056 by Rep. Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, takes police investigations into and decisions into the killings of civilians from the hands of local authorities. Many of those who have protested against law enforcement murders in the Bay Area and across the country are skeptical that the police are rigorously investigating shootings and other deadly violence by their peers. They also questioned whether local prosecutors, who determine whether the use of force is warranted, can make this decision impartially, given the close relationship between the prosecutor and the police.
AB1196 by Congregation Leader Mike Gipson, D-Carson, addresses the appropriate use of force during arrests. Governor Gavin Newsom has already ordered the state police training commission to stop training officers to use the carotid grip, and new legislation prohibits this. Law enforcement opponents say officials should be able to use the carotid restriction when their lives are in danger.
George Floyd was far from being the first civilian to die after police officers used the controversial tactic known as carotid restraint. The technique is designed to quickly incapacitate a person by blocking blood flow to the brain through their carotid artery. However, if used incorrectly, especially if a person is struggling with the officer, it can quickly become fatal.
In addition to the three bills, these are the other key pieces of police law that have run out of time:
"Decertifying" officers: California is one of only five states in the country that has no process to prevent law enforcement officers who have committed crimes or serious misconduct from continuing to work. SB731 from Senator Steven Bradford, D-Gardena, would change that.
Bradford's bill would create a new division within the state commission on standards and training for peace officers to investigate and determine whether officials who commit these crimes should be "decertified", essentially revoking their badges and preventing them from being elsewhere to be reinstated as civil servants.
It would also remove some of the legal safeguards known as “qualified immunity” that protect officials from being held liable in excessive violent lawsuits. Police Responsibility Groups believe that this protection is a major barrier to the accountability of officers.
Law enforcement groups have said they are open to setting up a decertification process. However, they reject Bradford's bill, which they believe goes too far, particularly to limit the protection of immunity.
The bill has become one of the session's most controversial and well-known police reform proposals, which sparked tweets in support of the legislation by Kim Kardashian West and Kyle Kuzma of the Los Angeles Lakers on Monday.
While we are calling for change, Dems currently in CA are refusing to pass a humble police reform that will keep abusive officials out of the state and end qualified immunity! @AssemblyDems Are you going to make real changes or just pretend you hear us?!? # PassSB731
– kuz (@kylekuzma), August 31, 2020
Restrictions for rubber bullets: On allegations that police used rubber bullets and tear gas against protesters in racial justice demonstrations earlier this summer, AB66 would set tough new limits on when these tactics could be used.
The bill would completely ban the use of tear gas and require that police only use kinetic energy projectiles – the industry term for objects like rubber bullets and beanbag bullets – against specific targets that pose an imminent threat. The rounds could not be fired to disperse protests or because protesters violated curfews.
Proponents cite dozens of cases where protesters have been permanently injured by police bullets during protests this summer. Police, who oppose the bill, say officers have fewer options and are more likely to use more severe physical violence when protests become violent.