The close of August marked the end of the two-year legislative session in Sacramento. As I’m sure most of you are well aware, this session included an immense amount of public safety-related legislation. It takes a lot of work to review and analyze all of these legislative proposals, including the bills that pass one house and then are gutted and amended to something completely different. As the session wound down, PORAC’s main priorities were opposing AB 931 (Weber), SB 1421 (Skinner) and AB 748 (Ting). The good news is that we were able to get a few months of breathing room when the President Pro Tem of the Senate held AB 931. While I write this, the latter two bills are sitting on the governor’s desk awaiting his signature, and we are asking that he veto them both.
I’ve repeatedly pointed out that law enforcement was not consulted at any point during the creation of AB 931, a major omission considering that it calls for such a dramatic change in the state standard for officers’ use of lethal force. As soon as we read the first iteration of this measure, it was clear to us that its goal was to criminalize peace officers who are involved in use-of-force incidents. By eliminating the standard set by the U.S. Supreme Court in Graham v. Connor that use of force should be based on what a reasonable officer would do under similar circumstances, and instead requiring it to be judged by the subjective measure of what is “necessary,” we believed that the bill placed an unfair burden on law enforcement that would compel officers to second-guess their actions and be judged on the basis of 20/20 hindsight.
With the help of our legislative advocates at Aaron Read & Associations and our Legal Defense attorneys, PORAC sprang into action. We analyzed the bill, discussed our concerns with the legislators in Sacramento and made some recommendations. We worked closely with our law enforcement coalition members — including the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, the California Association of Highway Patrolmen, the California Police Chiefs Association, the California State Sheriffs’ Association and the California District Attorneys Association — to avert its disastrous effects. With only two weeks left in the session, the coalition submitted additional amendments. Unfortunately, Assembly Member Weber presented her own changes directly to the media, making sure we didn’t have a chance to see them until after the news cycle so our comments wouldn’t be heard. Our amendments were turned down in the last week of the legislative session, so the only option left to us was to try to kill the bill. After extensive meetings with several elected officials, discussions with Senate Pro Tem and a targeted media campaign, we learned two days before the end of the session that she planned to hold AB 931 in the Rules Committee, asking all parties involved to commit to sitting down together to work on realistic ways to reduce officer-involved shootings.
From PORAC’s perspective, this is by and large a good result, since we were never allowed a seat at the table for a serious discussion on what commonsense changes to use-of-force guidelines might look like. We’re very thankful the Pro Tem held the bill pending further discussions, knowing full well that she would take a tremendous amount of heat from some of the community groups that have been very vocal against law enforcement. While it’s unlikely that we’ve seen the last gasp of this dangerous measure, we look forward to working with the Pro Tem’s office, our law enforcement coalition and other groups to see how we can best move California’s use-of-force standard in a direction that continues to protect the safety of our communities and our peace officers.
Meanwhile, PORAC members should be fully aware that if the governor signs SB 1421, there will be some dramatic changes in the release of officer information. The records of peace or custodial officers who are involved in incidents of deadly force or great bodily injury, sexual assault or dishonesty will be disclosed in 60 days unless their agency or district attorney can provide a compelling reason not to, and that reason must continue to be provided in writing at 120-day intervals. You need to know that unless your agency puts a hold on it, all of your information will be released in that 60-day timeframe. If the law is passed, PORAC anticipates providing additional training on this significant change under the Peace Officer Bill of Rights (POBR).
Similarly, AB 748 states that agencies are required to release body-worn camera footage of critical incidents within 45 days starting on July 1, 2019; if that would interfere with an ongoing investigation, an agency can delay for 30 days. PORAC tried to stop both these bills from passing, up until the very last day of the session. But even after a critical flaw in AB 748 was identified on the Assembly floor, the Legislature pushed it through. We are currently working with the governor’s office and urging him to veto these bills. Whatever happens, rest assured that PORAC is on the job and committed to doing everything we can to create a secure environment for all of the communities we serve — while making sure that protecting the lives of the public does not mean devaluing the lives of peace officers.
Have a safe and happy Halloween, and I look forward to seeing everyone at Conference.