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Politics & Government

California Lawmakers Are Gearing Up To Debate Police Reforms. Police Unions Want More Time For Vetting

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Andrew Nixon
Protesters demonstrating against the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police take a knee near the east steps of the California state Capitol as police stand on June 3, 2020.

Three of the state’s largest law enforcement advocacy groups released a joint press release Tuesday calling for more time and collaboration.

George Floyd’s death by the knee of a Minnesota police officer on Memorial Day spurred momentum for a slew of police reform bills 2,000 miles away in the California Legislature. Over the summer, lawmakers unveiled more than a dozen police reform proposals that range from banning various chokeholds to stripping “bad apple” cops of their badges for life.

Here’s a look at some of the bills that could see debate before the Legislature adjourns on Aug. 31:

  • Assembly Bill 66 would restrict police from using tear gas, rubber bullets and other “less-than-lethal” crowd control tactics on protestors. The measure, authored by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzales (D – San Diego) was inspired by stories of journalists and Black Lives Matter demonstrators who were injured or maimed by projectiles during protests in the wake of Floyd’s death.
  • Senate Bill 731 would eliminate qualified immunity, which protects police from lawsuits, as well as create a process to decertify officers charged with misconduct or convicted of certain crimes.
  • Senate Bill 776 would build on a 2018 law opening limited access to records of police misconduct. This measure would subject all officer complaints of violence to the California Public Records Act and require such complaints — which are currently retained for five years — to be retained indefinitely.
  • Assembly Bill 1196, authored by Assemblyman Mike Gipson (D – Carson) aims to ban all California police from using the carotid restraint and other chokeholds that put a suspect at high risk of asphyxiation.
  • Assembly Bill 1506 would require all police killings of unarmed civilians be investigated by a state prosecutor. Local governments, police agencies or district attorneys could also request an investigation into other incidents in which an officer kills someone.

Democratic sponsors of these and other bills are holding a virtual rally Wednesday to drum up support for their measures as the session nears its end.
But even in a Democrat-dominated legislature, some reforms aren’t a sure thing.

Last week, a proposal to require police to intercede if they witness another officer using excessive force — which even earned the nickname of “George Floyd law” for the three other Minneapolis officers that did not intervene in his death — was blocked from reaching the state Senate floor for a final vote.

And now, as the clock winds down, police unions are urging lawmakers to hit pause on SB 731 and SB 776, warning they need more time and vetting. Three of the state’s largest law enforcement advocacy groups — the California Police Chiefs Association, the Peace Officers Research Association of California and the California Association of Highway Patrolmen — released a joint press release Tuesday calling for more time and collaboration.

“Unfortunately, these two proposed bills were crafted virtually overnight and in silos – and would have unknown impacts to public safety, some of which could place both officers and members of the public in real danger,” the release reads in part.

In an interview, Cal Chiefs President Eric Nuñez elaborated.

“A lot of these bills, we actually support in concept, the problem is that the devil is in the details,” he said.

For example, he worried SB 776 would cost police departments and cities “millions of dollars” in record keeping for decades of misconduct complaints. He also said that even unsubstantiated complaints against officers would be subject to public release.

“We’ve had no lobbyists in the capitol, so not really able to communicate with our legislators face to face,” he said. “Hearings are abridged and abbreviated. It just doesn’t make for good legislation.”

Nuñez contrasts the current situation with work on SB 230, a 2019 law that requires police departments to have and train officers on use-of-force policies.

He says it took 18 months to become law from the time it was conceived. “But it’s a good piece of legislation for California law enforcement and for public safety,” he said.

“To do all this in four to five weeks? It’s just not reasonable.”

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