Combating COVID-19: Call for Public Safety Resources Needed from the Frontline

To continue containing and responding to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, there is a clear and urgent need to keep our first responders safe and healthy as they carry out their mission to serve and protect our California communities during this crisis. In New York, the NYPD has already confirmed 129 cases, another 2,407 have called out sick. If these numbers foreshadow what California law enforcement can expect in the coming days and weeks, we must do everything in our power to support our officers as they rise to meet this moment.

What Are We Asking For?

PORAC is requesting that urgent action be taken by state and federal elected officials to accomplish the following objectives:

  1. Increased supply of personal protective equipment (PPE)
    • Right now, we have officers in the field that either have no masks or only one. Officers are being asked to reuse and recycle masks intended for single use or are otherwise using bandanas and other materials.
    • There is an immediate need for disinfectant to ensure resources such as vehicles, duty belts and gear can be properly and appropriately sanitized after coming into contact with individuals who could potentially transmit the virus.
    • The CDC has also recommended that law enforcement officers wear disposable examination gloves and eye protection.
    • For more information on the CDC’s recommendations for PPE for law enforcement officers to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, please click here.
  2. Expedited testing for first responders showing symptoms or who encounter an infected individual
    • California must establish designated COVID-19 testing sites for first responders throughout the state, conducted by first responders to prioritize testing for those on the frontline of this pandemic.
    • Designated testing sites should be set up in order of priority – high-risk regions with the greatest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases should be prioritized first.
    • For more information and an example of how this program is being implemented, please review the Seattle Model by clicking here.
  3. Establish COVID-19 as a presumptive occupational illness to be covered under workers’ compensation
    • As peace officers and first responders are essential personnel, they are exempt from California’s shelter-in-place order and are at significantly higher risk for contracting the virus every day in the course of their duties. Should any officer or first responder contract the virus while performing their duties, we believe this qualifies as a work-related illness that should be covered by workers’ compensation.
  4. Obtain hotel space for peace officers that have contracted COVID-19, are awaiting test results, or have had a documented contact with a citizen that has tested positive for COVID-19
    • In cities throughout the state, hotel occupancy rates are hovering around 10%, and that excess hotel space has been secured for homeless individuals exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19. We believe similar arrangements can and should be made for the peace officers serving our communities.
    • Reserving hotel space for peace officers exhibiting symptoms will prevent the spread of the virus to their families and fellow peace officers; as departments begin to adjust their work schedules to reflect staff “flexing,” we cannot afford a diminished police force.
  5. Prioritized delivery of a vaccine, if and when available, to first responders
    • To ensure officers and first responders can continue to provide necessary services to the public during this health emergency, if a vaccine or other medical protocol that mitigates the effect of COVID-19 becomes available, peace officers and first responders, in addition to those hospitalized and in immediate need, should be among the first to receive it.

To protect the health and safety of our communities, we must protect the first responders who serve them. With the right tools and equipment in place, California’s elected leaders and communities can have the full confidence that law enforcement and our first responder partners will rise to face this challenge and exceed expectations, ensuring our communities are supported during this health crisis.

The Peace Officers Research Association of California (PORAC) is the largest statewide organization of its kind, representing 77,000 public safety members across more than 930 public safety associations in the state.

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*Disclaimer – This tele-townhall was recorded. We will send everyone a link to the recording for future use.

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Roseville’s Popup Shelter-at-Home Parade

The Roseville Police Department staged an impromptu parade for a neighborhood of residents who were sheltering at their homes. Residents smiled and waved from their front doors as the parade demonstrated a continued public safety presence in their neighborhood – officers continue to show up to keep California’s communities safe during this crisis.

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San Mateo Officers Lending a Helping Hand

Members of the San Mateo Police Department (SMPD) are lending a helping hand by picking up and delivering groceries to those who need them most, helping to ensure no one in their community goes hungry during this difficult time. SMPD officers have also launched the “Books ‘N Badges” video series – a series of videos where officers read children’s books to help give parents a much-needed break during this time when too many parents are having to juggle work and homeschooling their kids.

Delivering Boxed Lunches to Alameda’s Underprivileged Kids

While our schools are closed, we know there are students who may be facing food insecurities. The Alameda Unified School District has made every effort to provide reduced-price or free lunches for those who are eligible, but we don’t know how long this will last. To help close the gap, the Alameda Police Officers Association is supporting local small businesses and underprivileged youth by purchasing boxed lunches from locally owned restaurants to distribute to the kids who need them.

Congress Active on Law Enforcement Matters

May, which included National Police Week, was a busy month on Capitol Hill, with lawmakers focused on a range of issues, including the federal budget, Iran sanctions and trade. In the wake of recent high-profile incidents in both Baltimore, Maryland, and North Charleston, South Carolina, criminal justice issues have remained at the forefront of national attention — and lawmakers are increasingly weighing in on police and community relations matters, including police militarization and the use of body-worn cameras (BWCs).

Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) spoke on May 1 about a national crisis in the relations between law enforcement and minority communities and expressed support for local police departments using federal grant money to purchase BWCs. Representative Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), who represents the city of Baltimore, described police and community relations as “the civil rights cause for this generation” and stated that BWCs offer “protection for the police and the public.”

Presidential candidates have started to weigh in on law enforcement issues. Former Secretary of State and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton unveiled a number of criminal justice reforms during a speech in late April. In her remarks, she called for an end to the “era of mass incarceration” and said federal funds should not be used “to buy weapons of war that have no place on our streets.” She further stated that every police department in the country should have BWCs to record interactions between officers and the community.

Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a Republican presidential candidate and a persistent voice for sentencing reform, is the lead co-sponsor on legislation introduced earlier this year (S. 877, the Police Creating Accountability by Making Effective Recording Available Act of 2015 [Police CAMERA Act]) that is designed to encourage the use of BWCs by establishing a pilot grant program to assist law enforcement agencies in purchasing BWCs for officers. During their visit to D.C. for National Police Week, PORAC President Mike Durant and Vice President Brent Meyer met with the offices of Senators Paul and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), the co-sponsors of the Police CAMERA Act, to discuss PORAC’s position on BWCs.

Blue Alert and Bulletproof Vest Bills Pass Senate

The Senate (on April 30) and House (on May 12) passed by voice vote the Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu National Blue Alert Act (S. 665/H.R. 1269), which would create a nationwide Blue Alert system (modeled after the Amber Alert system for missing children) to apprehend violent criminals who have injured or killed police officers. The legislation, introduced by Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and former sheriff/Representative David Reichert (R-Wash.) in their respective chambers, would also initiate alerts when imminent or credible threats of harm are made against law enforcement officers. Senators Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), as well as Representatives Judy Chu (D-27th District, Calif.) and Zoe Lofgren (D-19th District, Calif.) co-sponsored the legislation, which will now head to the White House, where President Obama is expected to sign the bill into law.

On May 6, the Senate passed the bipartisan Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Program Reauthorization Act of 2015 (S. 125) to amend the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act, extending through fiscal year 2020 the authorization of the Bulletproof Vest Partnership Grant Program, which is run by the Bureau of Justice Assistance. No related House bill has been introduced at this time.

PORAC supports these bills and looks forward to continuing its work with Congress to enact legislation that enhances the safety of the law enforcement community.

Law Enforcement Equipment

On May 7, Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) introduced legislation to reform federal programs that direct equipment and funding to local police departments. S. 1245, the Protecting Communities and Police Act, would make a number of changes in the oversight and transparency of these programs and establish a task force to assist federal officials in determining whether certain equipment is appropriate for use by law enforcement. PORAC is reviewing and will closely monitor the legislation.

Upcoming Congressional Hearings

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Ranking Member John Conyers (D-Mich.) announced that they would hold a hearing on May 19 titled “Policing Strategies for the 21st Century” to “examine police accountability, aggression toward law enforcement, public safety concerns related to these issues, and solutions to address these problems.”

The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism will also hold a hearing on May 19, titled “Body Cameras: Can Technology Increase Protection for Law Enforcement Officers and the Public?”. The hearing is expected to examine the use of BWCs by law enforcement officers, as well as related data retention and privacy issues. Senator Tim Scott (R-S.C.) requested the hearing following the death of Walter Scott (no relation) in North Charleston, South Carolina. Senator Scott stated that ideally, “legislation or a grant apparatus that provides some resources for body cameras for those agencies that can ill afford it” would emerge after the hearing. PORAC met with Senator Scott and Subcommittee Chairman Lindsey Graham’s (R-S.C.) offices to discuss PORAC’s position on BWCs several days before the hearing.

Department of Justice Updates

Attorney General Loretta Lynch: Loretta Lynch, the former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, was sworn in as the 83rd Attorney General of the United States on April 27. Ms. Lynch’s first day as Attorney General forced her to confront civil unrest and protests in Baltimore following the funeral of Freddie Gray. In her first trip as Attorney General, she visited the city to meet with local leaders, including the Baltimore Police Department Commissioner and line officers. When meeting with police officers, Ms. Lynch thanked them for their work, stating, “You have picked a noble profession; you have picked a hard profession; but you have picked one of the best professions out there today, because you have picked the one that lets you go out there every day and say, ‘I’m going to help somebody.’”

As she leads the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), Ms. Lynch’s other priorities will likely include cybersecurity, combating human trafficking, and victims’ rights. She also will likely focus on improving police morale and improving relations between police and communities.

COPS Office in focus: The Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office) within DOJ is responsible for supporting the community policing efforts of state and local law enforcement agencies and is tasked with advancing community policing nationwide. Importantly, the COPS Office administers several grant programs that provide critical law enforcement support. To date, the COPS Office has invested more than $14 billion to fund the hiring of more than 125,000 officers and deputies and provides a range of resources to support community policing activities.

Since November 2013, the COPS Office has been led by Ronald L. Davis. Prior to his appointment, Director Davis served eight years as the Chief of Police for the City of East Palo Alto, and before that he served with the Oakland Police Department for 20 years. In its last two D.C. fly-ins, PORAC has had productive meetings with the COPS Office, including one meeting with Director Davis himself.

Grants

New Grant Program for Body-Worn Cameras: On May 1, the DOJ announced a $20 million body-worn camera pilot partnership program to assist local law enforcement organizations in purchasing BWCs for law enforcement officers. The program includes $17 million in competitive grants for the purchase of BWCs, $2 million for training and technical assistance and $1 million for the development of evaluation tools to study best practices. Applications are due by June 16, and more information on the grant program can be found at https://www.bja.gov/funding.aspx.

Other Grant Program Applications and Deadlines

Byrne JAG: The Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program, administered by the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), is the leading source of funding for local jurisdictions and is used to support law enforcement, prosecution, indigent defense, courts, crime prevention and education, corrections, drug treatment and enforcement, planning, evaluation, technology improvement, and crime victim and witness initiatives. The Fiscal Year 2015 State Solicitation application is currently available and is due on June 16. The Local Solicitations application was not yet available at the time of this issue’s publication.

COPS: COPS grants are awarded to state, local, territory, and tribal law enforcement agencies. Types of grants include the Coordinated Tribal Assistance Solicitation (CTAS), the COPS Hiring Program (CHP) and Community Policing Development (CPD). These grants can assist with technical training, the development of policing strategies, applied research, guidebooks, the hiring of officers (both new and previously laid-off officers), and the maintenance of officers scheduled to be laid off. CHP and CPD materials are now available to review from the COPS Office website, and solicitations will open in mid-May.

Officer Review of Body-Camera Footage Debated in the Assembly

April and May are typically two of the busiest months of the year for the California Legislature. Every bill must go through a policy committee (Public Safety, Judiciary or Health Committee, for example) before being heard in Appropriations Committee (if the bill has a price tag), and is then debated on the floor of its respective house.

The deadline for fiscal bills to pass out of policy committees was May 1, and the deadline for nonfiscal bills to pass out of policy committees was May 15. Now, all bills heard in Appropriations Committee must be heard by May 29, and those that successfully pass out of Appropriations must pass off of the floor of their house of origin by June 6.

Due to the time constraints of such a deadline schedule, many bills are heard in special hearings and amended very shortly before being heard in their next hearing. This means that dozens of bills are amended every day and therefore must be carefully reviewed by PORAC leadership to ensure that none of the amendments would negatively affect public safety. Thankfully, our team is able to work with PORAC leadership, especially President Mike Durant, multiple times daily to work through all of these amendments.

Bills that fail these legislative deadlines become two-year bills and are dead until the second year of the two-year session that begins in January. In total, 2,560 bills have been introduced and are at some point in the legislative process. We will have a clearer picture of how many bills failed the first set of deadlines after June 5.

Below are updates on two recently amended bills that PORAC has been working on relating to body-worn cameras and CCW permits on school campuses.

AB 66 by Assembly Member Shirley Weber (D-San Diego): Peace officers: body-worn cameras: AB 66 is the main body-camera bill introduced this year. PORAC has been in meetings with Assembly Member Weber’s staff for months regarding this issue.

In a special hearing of the Assembly Privacy and Consumer Protection Committee held prior to the policy committee deadline, President Durant and our ARA team were in attendance to testify. President Durant was the only rank-and-file law enforcement association leader in the hearing room. He has participated in all the conversations with all the members.

This was one of the oddest hearings in recent memory and has been the talk of the Capitol in the weeks following.

The bill had been amended four times prior to the Privacy Committee hearing. PORAC had remained actively opposed, particularly to the section prohibiting officers from reviewing the body camera footage prior to writing a report on incidents involving “serious use of force.”

Based on our strong opposition and discussion with members, we believed that we had the votes necessary to stall the bill in committee, giving us time to work through those concerns. This was demonstrated vividly when many members of the committee asked pointed questions and many of the members stated that they could not vote for it.

After it became clear that Assembly Member Weber did not have the sufficient number of votes to pass the bill, Chair/Assembly Member Mike Gatto (D-Glendale), who has voiced support for our position on reviewing camera footage prior to writing a report, called a five-minute recess and convened a meeting across the hall that included both supporters and opponents.

We discussed our position and what was important to PORAC. Many changes were agreed to; however, we were unhappy with an amendment that said review of the camera footage would be left to local control and therefore, each local agency could decide on its own. PORAC wanted an affirmative statement in the bill allowing officers to review the footage, thus removing our need to have to negotiate with 400 cities and 58 counties over that issue.

After much debate, the committee resumed and a second vote was taken. There were still insufficient votes to pass the bill, which led to another recess, this time in the committee room, with the Chair ordering that the doors be locked by the sergeants so that no one could leave until the issue was resolved.

In the end, our amendment was accepted, allowing officers to review the footage, with a carve-out for those agencies that have current policies in place that may not allow it. Therefore, with the exception of grandfathering a few agencies, such as Oakland and Richmond, the policy in statute going forward will be that officers will have the right to review the footage.

The committee resumed again and another roll call was taken. This time, the bill received the requisite number of votes necessary to pass. The final vote was 6-0, with five members abstaining (all four of the Republican members and Democrat Jim Cooper, a retired sheriff’s deputy). Jim Cooper was an all-star in the hearing. He asked pointed questions and brought into play his 30 years of being a street cop. We also applaud Assembly Members Matt Debabneh, Evan Low, Ian Calderon and Chair Mike Gatto for their great help in making this a better bill.

There are a number of other amendments related to tightening access to recording under the California Public Records Act, strengthening protections for informants, tightening provisions dealing with recording in private homes, etc. We are continuing to work with legislators and staff to create a bill that will be workable for all of our officers on the streets.

SB 707 by Senator Wolk (D-Davis): Gun-free school zones: Initially, this legislation prohibited CCW holders and retired law enforcement officers from possessing firearms on the grounds of a K-12 school or university. After the author introduced the bill, PORAC met with Wolk’s staff to address our concerns with barring former officers from carrying their concealed weapons on campus. Should a dangerous situation occur, we want these highly trained former officers to have the tools necessary to respond. After discussions with Senator Wolk and her staff, amendments were made to eliminate the ban. PORAC is now in support of this legislation, which will be heard on the Senate floor.

PORAC in the News

PORAC continues to be the voice of law enforcement in the news media. There is no other organization that reporters turn to more often than PORAC when they are in need of a public safety perspective. Our outreach has been varied throughout the state, and we tackle issues covering a broad scope. In recent months, PORAC leadership and advocates have been published in papers from Ventura to Santa Cruz to Sacramento on issues ranging from pensions to endorsements to Proposition 47.

Ventura County Star, Timm Herdt, “Bill Governing Use of Police Body Cameras Advances After Compromise”: The Ventura County Star printed a piece regarding the most recent body-worn camera hearing, in which Aaron Read & Associates advocate Randy Perry’s testimony was highlighted: “Lobbyist Randy Perry, representing the Peace Officers Research Association of California, an umbrella organization for police unions across the state, argued such a requirement could result in officers being ‘potentially disciplined if they have some discrepancies.’ He noted that the U.S. Justice Department has recommended that officers be given the opportunity to review videos before writing reports, a procedure that would lead to more accurate reporting. ‘Accuracy is the most important part of a fair judicial system,’ he said.”

CalBuzz, Mike Durant, “Why Unions Back Bonilla Over Glazer”: Our team was approached by the Susan Bonilla for Senate campaign to clarify organized labor’s support for Bonilla over opponent Steve Glazer. A piece penned by President Mike Durant was featured in CalBuzz, an online blog frequented by those in the political world.

Sacramento Bee, Chelsea Irvine, “Another View: Prop 47 Gun Provision Must Be Fixed”: PORAC was one of the main opponents to Proposition 47, which passed by a wide margin after an extraordinarily well-funded campaign of half-truths about the flawed initiative. Subsequent to the passage of Prop 47, numerous bills have been introduced to address the most egregious flaws. One such bill, AB 150 by Assembly Member Melissa Melendez (R-Lake Elsinore), amends the law to make theft of any firearm a felony. The Sacramento Bee published an op-ed from a social justice advocate praising Prop 47. In response, our MPC team drafted a piece from our staff, as consultants to PORAC. Employing a female voice not extensively heard in law enforcement, we utilized our staff’s experience of witnessing a violent crime likely perpetrated with a stolen firearm.

Santa Cruz Sentinel, Mike Pruger, “Public Pensions Are Not in Crisis”: Our team was approached by Santa Cruz Deputy Sheriffs’ Association President Mike Pruger regarding a piece that ran in the local Santa Cruz paper warning of the “pension crisis” happening in California. Again, the facts of the piece were skewed and the realities of public employee pensions were omitted. We worked with President Pruger to craft a response that was clear and noncombative while expounding on the facts of the issue — the collectively bargained concessions already made by the DSA and why reasonable public employee pensions are critical to the recruitment and retention of quality officers.

Body-Worn Cameras

Body-worn cameras have been the talk of the Capitol in recent months, and those discussions have become even more common as video of additional incidents has been made public throughout the nation.

Recently, our team at MPC interviewed San Diego Police Officers Association President Brian Marvel regarding San Diego P.D.’s implementation of a body-worn camera program. We will be breaking the interview into multiple segments, highlighting the various issues involved in the successful use of body-worn cameras. These segments will give policymakers and the media an important firsthand look into San Diego officers’ experiences with this new technology. We thank President Marvel for traveling to Sacramento to share his experiences and insight.

PORAC TV

Our team at Marketplace Communications continues to work with PORAC leadership to create PORAC TV segments that keep members informed on the wide range of PORAC’s activities on their behalf. Recently, we recorded President Mike Durant regarding PORAC’s efforts to ease the strain between law enforcement officers and those they serve. While we understand that many are frustrated, President Durant explained in his vlog that PORAC is willing to work together to create a sense of community that can be lacking in some areas. This was a no-nonsense, one-cop-speaking-to-the-community piece. If you haven’t seen the video, you can view it on PORAC’s YouTube channel (www.YouTube.com/PORACalifornia), Facebook (www.Facebook.com/PORAC) and Twitter pages (www.Twitter.com/PORACalifornia) for updates as these segments go live.

Furthermore, during the California Peace Officers’ Memorial Ceremonies in Sacramento in May, we had the opportunity to interview members of PORAC’s Board of Directors to create a historical archive of these officers’ experiences, both on the frontlines and in their efforts with PORAC. Each Board member had a distinct experience to share with us, highlighting the issues in their areas of expertise and their local jurisdictions. We will continue these video archive sessions as Board and Executive Committee members are available.