Cops the Gray area

Law enforcement and the governor have a mutually beneficial relationship

02/23/2000 — CA ASSN OF HIGHWAY PATROLMEN PAC, $50,000.00

Law enforcement organizations have called Gray Davis the best friend they’ve ever had in the California governor’s office, and, because of this, they have contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to his campaign war chest. In the first six months of this year alone, just three cop groups gave Davis a combined total of more than $100,000.

For a governor who has long positioned himself as tough on crime, the contributions raise interesting “chicken-or-the-egg” questions: Does law enforcement give Davis money because they like his stance on their issues? Or does Davis champion their issues because it benefits him financially and politically?

His actions on recent legislation impacting beat cops and prison guards illustrate the conundrum, but don’t really point to any clear answers to the questions. Call it Gray’s gray area.

Assembly Bill 788 would have defined “racial profiling” by police and required the California Highway Patrol and specified law agencies to report statistical data from traffic stops. Law enforcement groups vocally opposed the measure and so did Davis, whose stance caused the bill first to be watered down, then killed.

When he signed the state budget last month, Davis also removed racial profiling data collection provisions from the spending measure. While the governor is still allowing local law enforcement agencies to qualify for funding for their own variety of data collection, the program omits the most crucial determinants of profiling—the reason for the stop, whether a search was conducted and whether drugs or other illegal activities were found.

While Davis has said he opposes racial profiling, his fingerprints have been on the death or dismemberment of every significant attempt to address the problem in recent years, including Senate Bills 66, 78 and 1389. And each time, he has parroted law enforcement, claiming that measures to define and/or correct the problem would be too onerous for the cop on the street.

Education of prison inmates is another issue in which Davis has sided with law enforcement over a host of other interest groups—and, some say, a common sense approach to reducing incarceration rates, something proved in study after study.

Senate Bill 1845 would have established a Correctional Education Board within the Department of Corrections (CDC) to oversee prison education, taking it out of the hands of the wardens, under whom teacher vacancies have gone unfilled, funding has been diverted to other uses and educational offerings to inmates have diminished. Davis vetoed the bill (an action that also caused a similar bill this year to languish in the Legislature), claiming it would “impair the CDC’s ability to manage its resources.”

Those resources have handsomely benefited members of the California Correctional Peace Officer’s Association (CCPOA), which in turn has lavished cash on the governor, giving $10,000 directly this year and sponsoring a recent golf tournament that funneled more than $200,000 into Davis campaign coffers. At the same time, the sad state of the prison education system has all but guaranteed long-term job stability for prison guards. Some studies have drawn a direct correlation between the system’s high recidivism rates and the fact that CDC consistently fails to meet state mandates to bring inmates up to a ninth-grade reading level.

Opposition from beat cops and prison guards virtually guaranteed that the governor would veto Senate Bill 127. It proposed that if inmates participated in an in-prison substance abuse treatment program, they should be released to the county that would best serve their aftercare needs, regardless of where they legally resided prior to imprisonment. Law enforcement opposed this, claiming they didn’t want to receive more than their share of criminals. Critics also contend that prison guards don’t like anything that reduces recidivism rates. And so a measure that passed overwhelmingly in the Senate and unanimously in the Assembly died on the governor’s desk.

With the public rightly concerned that CCPOA is influencing public policy in ways that ensure California has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world, the prison guards have recently opted for more stealthy approaches to winning influence. By sponsoring a seemingly innocuous group, Crime Victim’s United of California, it is able to influence bills through their contributions without having their name on it.

It used such a tactic in opposing Assembly Bill 2101, which would have granted media full access to prisoners, a ban started by then-Governor Pete Wilson and continued by Davis. A prior attempt to reverse the ban, Assembly Bill 1440, was also vetoed by Davis, who stated, “according to correctional authorities, its implementation would disrupt the orderly administration of prisons.”

Perhaps we don’t have to tell you that Crime Victims United opposed the latest bill, and Davis vetoed it once again.