Since the announcements of SB 230 and AB 392 in February, the debate between public safety groups and ACLU-led organizations has been renewed in the public eye, drawing varying opinions from politicians to the public alike. The media, in particular, has been a powerful voice in this debate for the way it, in its so-called “objective” reporting, has framed both pieces of legislation. We have been monitoring the news cycle’s coverage of our bill and the opposition’s bill, and based on what we’ve seen so far, the long-held bias against police officers is alive and well in the media.
Take, for example, the Sacramento Bee’s disparate coverage of the competing bills. In numerous articles, Assemblymember Shirley Weber’s AB 392 — a revived version of AB 931 that seeks to raise the legal standard for deadly use of force — is juxtaposed with mentions of officer-involved shootings, such as the 2018 Stephon Clark incident, statistics about the “high” number of law enforcement–related deaths in the state and successes other states, like Washington, have had with use-of-force restrictions. The paper continues to fan the flames of anti-police sentiment in some groups. They parrot the talking points of the mostly inaccurate ACLU statistics and never challenge the veracity of their claims. I know the Bee has some good reporters who are objective and focus on the facts, but the editorial board either lacks the backbone to challenge the ACLU or is completely in the bag with Weber.
Within those very same articles, SB 230 is written about almost like an afterthought. Senator Anna Caballero’s comprehensive use-of-force legislation, which focuses on creating statewide protocols and training, is treated as merely a law enforcement-backed response to Weber’s bill. Unlike with AB 392, hardly any data, any mentions of how officers’ uses of force have saved lives and any statistics about the dangers of the job or line-of-duty deaths accompany SB 230. We spent five months negotiating with Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkin’s staff, Weber’s staff and the ACLU to find an agreeable compromise. As you can see, it didn’t work out, but not for our lack of trying. While these negotiations were proceeding, we worked with use-of-force and legal experts, along with medical professionals, to craft a plan that addresses all their concerns.
What’s more, a month after reporting about both bills, the Bee’s editorial board published a scathing piece entitled, “Police won’t obey transparency law. Why trust them on deadly force reform?” It erroneously argued that law enforcement’s opposition to SB 1421 meant that law enforcement does not favor transparency and therefore cannot be trusted to implement use-of-force reform. The Bee showed readers how it really felt about police when it called SB 230 a “sham” and a “decoy bill designed to thwart real reform.” With this position, how can we expect them to objectively report about SB 230 and our plan?
Unfortunately, the Bee is just one of many media outlets skewing public opinion with its bias. Many outlets consciously or unconsciously show bias in their reporting, and it’s part of a disturbing trend that perpetuates and engenders anti-law-enforcement sentiment among the public. According to a Pew Research Center survey conducted by the National Police Research Platform in 2017, about eight in ten officers (81%) who work in departments with 100 or more sworn officers say the media generally treat police unfairly. About four in ten officers (42%) strongly agree that the media are unfair to police.
In addition to influencing how the public feels about police, the media’s treatment of the profession also negatively affects officers on the job. The survey stated officers who strongly agree that the media treat police unfairly have feelings of frustration at work, and nearly one in three (31%) say such treatment makes them feel angry.
The media has been preying on law enforcement for far too long, and we must push back against this unfair treatment. We must be vigilant about presenting the facts about SB 230 to our legislators and the public. We need to counter the media’s biased reporting with objective information about Senator Caballero’s bill, which sets a clear and enforceable standard for authorizing the use of force, standardizes use-of-force training and enacts precedent-setting, evidence-based policies to maximize sound judgment and minimize use of force in our state. Contrary to what the Bee is reporting, this bill is neither a sham nor decoy. SB 230 will require all of California’s 500 law enforcement agencies to adhere to the use-of-force standard set by the U.S. Supreme Court, establish the most comprehensive use-of-force policies and guidelines in the nation, undergo the best use-of-force training available while providing the resources necessary to accomplish that task and continue to uphold our commitment to protecting all Californians.
If you are reading this article, it is a call to action! We can be angry and frustrated with the media, but the best way to counter this is by getting involved. We need you to help us in Sacramento. I need you to write, phone or visit your local statewide elected officials and tell them the truth about SB 230 and why it’s so important for the future of law enforcement and the communities we serve. If our voice is not heard, the elected leaders will only hear from the opposition. We have made it easy for you to reach your representatives with our digital action alert. Simply visit www.porac.org/sb230 to send a prewritten letter stating that you support SB 230 and oppose AB 392. It only takes a few seconds to let your voice be heard!
The best way to tell the Bee to pound sand is to have SB 230 pass and AB 392 fail!
Together, we can work toward protecting California communities and setting a national standard for policing.