California lawmakers take baby steps toward law enforcement accountability
Bills to document use of force, community policing strategies get different receptions
With a bill to mandate independent investigation of officer-involved killings in California stalled in committee, other legislative efforts reveal lawmakers’ picky appetites for holding their law enforcement communities accountable.
Local Assemblyman Kevin McCarty’s bill to outsource the investigation of fatal police encounters is being “held under submission.” The term means there’s a stated desire to discuss the bill, but no forward momentum to move it out of committee.
On Friday, the same fate visited Assemblywoman Shirley Weber’s Assembly Bill 619, which would require law-enforcement agencies to report their use-of-force encounters to the California attorney general’s office on an annual basis.
There currently is no official database documenting fatal police encounters, much less one for confrontations that stop short of death. Weber’s bill would greatly expand what is known about when and how force is applied by California’s law-enforcement establishment.
Referencing the viral video litany that includes such names as Eric Garner, Walter Scott and Freddie Gray, racial justice advocate Chauncee Smith indicated that lawmakers have before them a grim opportunity.
“While it is quite difficult to discern betterment in such tragedy, if it exists, it may be that it has delivered a proverbial gut check to our society,” Smith, who works for the American Civil Liberties Union of California, told an Assembly committee on May 27.
Yet the guts of lawmakers may not be quite as big as their eyes. The tepid response to Weber’s A.B. 619 is due, in part, to its $3.3 million price tag.
Finding more support was A.B. 1289, authored by a former cop himself, Assemblyman Jim Cooper of Elk Grove. Unanimously approved by the state Assembly on Monday, the proposal now moves to the Senate. If passed, the bill would require a study on local community policing and engagement strategies. The bill shifts that authority from the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office to the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training, which sets the minimum standards for becoming a cop.
Taryn Kinney, a spokesperson for Assemblyman Cooper, said it was the LAO that recommended the shift, since POST’s contacts with local law enforcement agencies would make the data-collection process easier.
Lastly, there’s A.B. 953, also by Weber. It would expand California’s prohibition against racial profiling to include all forms of identity bias, and create an advisory board under the state attorney general’s office to oversee such efforts in 2016.
A.B. 953 advanced through the Assembly’s appropriations committee, and was due for a second reading on Tuesday. “We’ll see if our Assembly actually has the courage to do what the people are asking for,” Weber said during last week’s committee meeting.