Brian R. Marvel
Normally, in even-numbered years, the stroke of midnight on August 31 ends the two-year session of our State Legislature. This year, as the evening got closer to midnight, I became more and more anxious for this session to end. When midnight passed and they were still working, it was quite nerve-wracking. The final gavel struck at around 1:30 a.m. on September 1.
PORAC monitors and takes positions on a wide variety of bills related to public safety, retirement and pensions, and this session was no different from what we have seen in the past — until the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Seeing all the hate and discontent being hurled at law enforcement, the ACLU, along with some elected officials, wasted no time in getting pen to paper. We have all heard the saying “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” They took that to heart and tried to hit a grand slam in this COVID-19-truncated end of session. PORAC usually has a top five list of high-priority bills, but that changed pretty much overnight. It became a top 25-plus list. Of that list, 21 bills were gut-and-amends. Our usual end-of-session workload increased fivefold within days. Fortunately for us, we have amazing advocates working for PORAC, and we came together as a profession to fight the good fight.
As the bills crossed the desk to work their way through the abbreviated legislative process, we reviewed them and reached out to the authors, which we always do. Very few, if any, bills end the way they were submitted. Several authors of these bills were not interested in meeting with PORAC or other law enforcement professionals who would be impacted by them. They felt, due to the national dialogue around police reform, they would be able to run these measures through, irrespective of resistance and without any common-sense amendments. Our profession truly had to come together and fight hard to make sure our voices were heard and let our elected leaders know the detrimental effects some of these bills would have on public safety and our working conditions. As is always true in politics, you win some and you lose some. Overall, I think we were very successful in fighting back legislation that was ill-thought-out and unworkable, and would have jeopardized the lives and safety of peace officers throughout California.
When you have elected officials refusing to meet and confer on changes to a profession, that should throw up a red flag immediately! The good news is that the most detrimental pieces of legislation died in committee or on the legislative floor. Among these was SB 731 by Senator Steven Bradford. With last year’s collaborative approach to SB 230 and AB 392, PORAC clearly showed elected officials that we are more than willing to come to the table for dialogue about changes to our profession, but Senator Bradford was unwilling to meet and confer. His bill would have created a decertification protocol, along with eliminating qualified immunity. It wasn’t until about 10 days prior to the end of session, when the senator realized his bill was on shaky ground, that he halfheartedly attempted to reach out and have discussions, which I’m sure his sponsors, the ACLU, wanted no part of. Thankfully, SB 731 never made it off the floor. What is striking about his bill is that no other profession in the United States with a licensing process is subject to a commission where two-thirds of its members have a built in explicit or implicit bias against the person trying to keep their license.
One bill of note that did make it to the governor’s desk and was enrolled was AB 1506 by Assemblymember Kevin McCarty. His bill would create a division within the Department of Justice to review and make recommendations on agency use-of-force policies upon request. It would also require a state prosecutor to investigate incidents of an officer-involved shooting resulting in the death of an unarmed civilian. Assemblyman McCarty did reach out to us initially, and we expressed our concerns. We were neutral on the measure as it was originally introduced, waiting for Attorney General Becerra to weigh in. Then the assemblymember tried to take advantage of the national discourse. He amended his bill with this language: “…and would require the state prosecutor to conduct an investigation upon request from a local law enforcement agency, district attorney, city council, or county or city and county board of supervisors, on an incident involving the use of force by a peace officer that resulted in the death of a civilian.” You can see the political conundrum this creates. This would turn what should be a factual process into a political tool that can be wielded by activist politicians — which is ultimately his goal and, unfortunately, the goal of a lot of elected officials throughout California.
The six weeks leading up to August 31 were some of the longest and hardest of my three years as president of PORAC. I want to thank Randy Perry, Aaron Read and Michele Cervone of Aaron Read & Associates (ARA) for the incredible work they did on behalf of PORAC and our members. As I’ve stated many times before, I do not believe there are any other advocates in California equal to them. We should be extremely grateful that we have ARA on our side. I also would like to thank the Board of Directors, chapter presidents and PORAC affiliate SEBA for the immense amount of work they contributed to this effort. As I stated earlier, our profession came together, and I want to thank the non-PORAC-affiliated groups who worked just as tirelessly as we did, such as the CAHP, ALADS, PPOA, Cal Chiefs and the associations affiliated with the Fraternal Order of Police, among others.
We will continue to fight for and support our members in Sacramento and in Washington, D.C., especially when it comes to keeping our communities we serve and our members safe. I always say that as peace officers, we hate status quo and we hate change, but our profession is constantly moving forward and improving. Just in the 20 years I have been on the job, I have seen progress in technology, use-of-force policies, training and research. We also need to recognize that as police professionals, we must be guided by what our community wants its police departments to look like. With that said, our position has always been that we need to be consulted and have a seat at the table to negotiate what those changes will be and how they are implemented, and I do not believe that expectation is too much to ask from our elected leaders. Although we had some great success this year, I anticipate the next two years will be just as difficult, if not more so, regarding police reform bills. Lastly, if you live in L.A. County or know someone who does, please reach out and make sure they vote for L.A. DA Jackie Lacey. This is one of the most important races in the state of California.
I hope you have a happy and safe Halloween, in whatever form it takes this year.