Capitol Beat – War on Police

Aaron Read and Randy Perry
Legislative Advocates
Aaron Read & Associates, LLC

In spite of our knowledge of the legislative process, we can never anticipate all the surprises that each legislative session brings. PORAC and the team at Aaron Read & Associates (ARA) enter each session equipped with the experiences of the past, homework to address new issues and an understanding of how the future will be shaped. Last session, we had a tough fight with Senator Mark Leno’s SB 1286, which would have opened peace officers’ investigatory files and disciplinary hearings to the public. PORAC and ARA established a working group of rank-and-file law enforcement organizations to oppose the measure. Our efforts were not in vain, as the bill died in Senate Appropriations.

The successes of the working group led to the introduction of AB 1428 by Assembly Member Evan Low. This bill is law enforcement’s response to the highly publicized debate on police transparency. PORAC, along with the other sponsors of AB 1428, wrote this comprehensive measure determined to lessen the divide between the police and the community by providing reasonable transparency without threatening the safety of our officers and their families. As the bill continues to move through each committee with little to no opposition, we are well aware that our work is not done. For every bill PORAC introduces, we are faced with substantially more bills that we must oppose. There are over 20 bills on which we have taken an “active oppose” position, meaning we are testifying in committee, working with others in opposition and meeting with legislators to discuss our serious concerns.

You would have to live under a rock to not realize that being a police officer in California is much more difficult than it used to be. Law enforcement and the media have had major battles over the last few years, and those battles often occur inside the rooms of the Capitol. Beginning with Ferguson, organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Black Lives Matter, Men and Boys of Color, and the California Newspaper Publishers Association have taken a lead role in introducing legislation that suggests the police are the problem. Although we cannot argue that all officers are good, we stand behind the truth that for every bad cop, there are thousands of honorable cops. It’s unfortunate that the actions of a select few have created the trending atmosphere of “us versus them.” 

In a recent Fox News article reporting on the increase of police deaths in 2017, Randy Sutton, the national spokesman for Blue Lives Matter and a retired Las Vegas police lieutenant, discussed the hostility and divide by saying that “part of the war on cops [is] the failure of police leadership to step up to the plate and not acquiesce to political considerations when it comes to the safety of police officers. The other part of the war on cops is the failure of the media to post anything positive about police. All they do is put up damaging stories and spin much of that into a narrative that is false and perpetuates a distorted narrative.” The truth is that we want to work closely with community leaders. We want peaceful neighborhoods where families are safe.

Earlier this year, AB 748, a bill relating to video and audio recordings of peace officers, was introduced. The bill posed no threat to law enforcement as it sailed through the Assembly. It wasn’t until the bill was set to be heard in Senate Public Safety in July that the team at ARA was asked by Assembly Member Ting’s staff to meet. At that time, we were handed significant amendments to the bill. The sponsors of AB 748, the California Newspaper Publishers Association, California Attorneys for Criminal Justice and California Public Defenders Association, are now seeking to make changes to the California Public Records Act (CPRA) that would be harmful to all law enforcement. The advocates at ARA made it clear that it is not lost on us that the author moved a fairly innocuous bill through the Assembly and waited until getting over to the other house to drop in this objectionable language.

Not only do incidents such as Ferguson bring about new legislation, but many bills have been introduced as the result of President Trump’s election. In California, Senate leader Kevin de León introduced Senate Bill 54 to combat the Trump administration’s order to broaden deportation borders. SB 54, otherwise known as the “Sanctuary State” bill, would keep law enforcement agencies from cooperating with federal immigration agents. This bill would place certain restrictions on state and local government entities in their interactions with federal immigration authorities. Senator de León has accepted some of law enforcement’s proposed amendments to the bill, but PORAC continues to oppose the measure.

PORAC is listening. We have introduced body camera and CPRA bills in an effort to do whatever it takes to protect witnesses and victims from videos depicting an officer killed in the line of duty. We are working with legislators to educate them on the priorities of law enforcement. We remind the public that our men and women in blue do what many people can’t or won’t do — risk their lives for a stranger. When difficult issues arise, PORAC does not bury its head in the sand, we do something.

“People don’t understand the sacrifices officers make. There are not too many professions where people are murdered while doing their job, and this is one profession where people are killed somewhat routinely in performing their job.” — Officer Down Memorial Page (ODMP) Research Director Steve Weiss