Brent J. Meyer
PORAC Vice President
Like many of you, we at PORAC have been closely following the repercussions of the March 18 shooting of Stephon Clark by Sacramento police officers. The event and its fallout are especially immediate for those of us here in the capital city, but the effects are reverberating throughout law enforcement.
Once again, the media has framed this as a negative story critical of police killing an unarmed black man, despite unprecedented release of body-worn camera video by Sacramento P.D. Less than a week after the shooting the department released footage from the two officers involved, video from the helicopter that directed the officers to Clark, audio of the initial 9-1-1 call reporting a subject breaking car windows, and audio from the police dispatch. A second batch of footage was released on April 16, including 23 in-car camera videos and 28 body-cam videos, two 9-1-1 call audio files and the rest of the video from the helicopter. Despite every effort at transparency and repeated calls for calm to allow the numerous independent investigations to continue, violent protests broke out in Sacramento and continued for weeks, disrupting a City Council meeting, shutting down freeways and blockading entry to the Golden 1 Center for NBA games. As usual, the intense focus has zeroed in on the actions of the officers, not the suspect. My opinion — biased as a Sacramento police officer, of course, but I can attest to having the same training that the involved officers did — is that their response was textbook and professional.
What Sacramento P.D. did after the shooting was the right move, demonstrating its willingness to be transparent with the public and offering insight into the procedures officers have to follow when making split-second decisions in life-and-death situations. The investigation is ongoing, even as you read this. Unfortunately, despite these attempts to show the other side of the story, unbalanced narratives were still broadcast far and wide by the media. Now this tragically negative anecdote is fueling a number of misguided and unnecessary bills in the Legislature. It is crucial for PORAC to stay on the front lines of this policy fight and the many different battles being waged within it.
One of these is AB 284, which originally proposed to take the investigative authority for officer-involved shootings away from district attorneys and create an independent unit within the state Department of Justice to handle such cases. Stating that OIS investigations should largely stay local, Attorney General Xavier Becerra himself successfully lobbied to scale back the bill to require a two-year study before establishing any sort of new investigative unit. Given the public response to the Clark shooting and his desire to be re-elected this year, however, it wouldn’t surprise me if he changed his position back to supporting the bill in its original form. Regardless, AB 284 clearly isn’t needed: In fact, we know that the attorney general already has the authority to review these matters, and the Sacramento police chief and district attorney have already invited Becerra’s office to independently oversee the Clark investigation.
In the same field but on a different front, AB 748 from Assembly Member Ting would require the release of body-worn camera recordings as public records immediately upon request, or after 120 days if immediate release would impede the investigation. Again, this legislation is unnecessary as a response to the Clark shooting; Sacramento City Council policy already mandates release of all video associated with a critical incident within 30 days, and the Sacramento police chief released the footage in this case just three days after the incident. And finally, we have another impending battle regarding the yet-to-be-introduced “Right to Know” legislation, SB 1421, which would eliminate many of the confidentiality protections that members of law enforcement have within the Peace Officers Bill of Rights. This is just a retread of Senator Leno’s SB 1286, which, as you may recall, PORAC killed in 2016. It is no coincidence that the newspaper publishers and other media have been inciting their one-sided version of the Clark story, which powers the momentum behind such legislative measures that could benefit them for decades to come and feeds the news cycle at the expense of public safety.
In addition to continuing to work closely with our political advocates at Aaron Read & Associates to combat this latest wave of attacks in the war on law enforcement, PORAC recently brought together LDF attorneys to brainstorm ideas for how we can legislatively address the current climate and reinforce our positions in the future. Rest assured that we will remain vigilant in defending against irresponsible legislation that negatively impacts our profession, and proactive in putting forward real-world, commonsense solutions that make our state safer. We believe it’s possible to enhance public trust, accountability and transparency while also protecting the rights and safety of our officers who risk their lives each and every day in the service of their communities. Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, I fear that things will get worse for cops before they get better — both on the streets and at the State Capitol.