Brent J. Meyer
PORAC Vice President
By the time you read this, the midterm elections are upon us. The past few months have been especially chaotic in politics, with unprecedented change, uncertainty and anger. Americans witnessed a contentious and intense Senate confirmation hearing of a Supreme Court justice that exposed a schism between political parties and genders, unlike anything this generation has ever seen before. It’s indicative of a disturbing and uncomfortable shift away from how we expect things to proceed.
In the past several years, a bitter and sharp public discourse have dominated public-policy issues. It’s disheartening because the level of professionalism and professional courtesy is seemingly nonexistent in our lawmakers. We seem to have plummeted in the name of justice into a sea of rhetoric.
I am even more frustrated and increasingly worried by elected officials’ targeted legislation toward our profession, which undermines our ability to safely and effectively protect our communities. Governor Brown signed three bills last month that are particularly troubling and are ones that are quite familiar to you by now.
AB 748, which was authored by Assembly Member Phil Ting, requires that video and audio recordings of a “critical incident” involving an officer’s use of force or a legal or policy violation be made available to the public. This bill, which goes into effect July 1, allows the recording to be withheld for 45 calendar days if the release would interfere with an active investigation, subject to extensions. Will this law compromise law enforcement investigations by prematurely releasing only one aspect of the evidence? We’re definitely going to find out. One thing is for certain: agencies will need to do even more preemptive work to craft the message ahead of only one piece of evidence. Some are already doing this and, thus far, it seems to be nominally effective.
SB 1421, introduced by Senator Nancy Skinner, gives the public access to records of investigations into police shootings, cases of police sexual assault and lying in police reports, beginning January 1. This includes personnel records of police, and all will be made available no later than 18 months after the incident. PORAC President Brian Marvel has said that officers who fear their names could be made public might hesitate in the field before they act, compromising safety. He might just be right. And what will happen when an officer who has been identified encounters someone who has chosen to dispense their own personal brand of justice? The time has come to make a solid recommitment to our off-duty and personal safety, and to that of our families’.
SB 1437, which Skinner co-authored with Senator Joel Anderson, changes felony murder law so that some accomplices will not be liable for felony murder. Starting January 1, California can no longer treat accomplices in murders the same as if they were the actual killer. SB 1437 also allows felons sentenced under felony murder law to seek resentencing if they meet certain qualifications. This is probably the most troubling change to our criminal justice system. Eliminating any accountability for accomplices and those who help facilitate the most heinous crimes is a dangerous and ridiculous step backward for victims. Certainly the Legislature, the Governor or Attorney General will not be around to explain this victimization to Californians.
Fortunately, there is a bit of good news. AB 931, which PORAC strenuously opposed and would have redefined how peace officers use force, was shelved for the session. We know it will be back next year. In fact, PORAC is using the time in between legislative sessions to work on a new strategy for next year. Without a doubt, killing this impending bill will again be job #1 for our advocates.
Like you, I am greatly concerned by the sustained attack on law enforcement by social justice groups in the name of habitual criminals. These groups have been aided by politicians who would claim to be our friends. Last time I checked, friends look out for one another, not be complicit in attacking them. PORAC won’t let this go unchallenged and, like I just mentioned, is re-evaluating our relationships and support for those elected representatives who can’t support us on this.
So, where do we go from here and what can we do?
First and foremost, hopefully you voted during the midterm elections to ensure that your voice is heard. Voting is fundamental to our country’s system of governance, and we should never take it for granted. This may sound trite, but it’s our obligation to vote. Our nation’s Founding Fathers fought fiercely for self-determination. Simply voting is the very least one can do to defend that right.
As association leaders, we need also to hold elected officials responsible for their actions and the promises they made. Collectively, PORAC leadership, you, me and all our members need to review these individuals’ positions on the aforementioned legislation. Where did they stand? What have they said about AB 931? The stakes are too high to not keep this in mind for the next time you go to the polls.
So I guess what I am saying is that now is not the time to be disengaged. Publicly and/or directly reach out to your representative lawmaker to make clear your views. It’s time to start identifying, contacting and developing prospective candidates for the next election cycle and laying out your positions. Attend your PORAC chapter meetings and make sure that your chapter director, president and local association leaders know where you stand and what you expect from the PORAC Board of Directors. Stay in communication with them often to guarantee that we continually and effectively represent you.
Thank you for your membership, have fun and stay safe!