Two Key Police Reform Bills Progress at State Level

Police Body Camera Stock

Two key pieces of legislation progressed on Monday, with a bill to create great body camera footage transparency moving forward, while a bill to have independent investigations for police shootings picked up key support from California’s Attorney General.

On Tuesday, Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced he is sponsoring legislation that would “promote safety, transparency, and improved public trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve.”

The legislation, AB 284, the Deadly Force Evaluation Act, would require the California Department of Justice (DOJ) to conduct a first-of-its kind statewide evaluation of officer-involved shootings.

AB 284 was introduced by Assemblymembers Kevin McCarty (District 7-Sacramento), Rob Bonta (District 18-Oakland), Reggie Jones-Sawyer (District 59-South Los Angeles) and co-authored by Senator Ben Hueso (District 40-San Diego) and Assemblymember Chris Holden (District 41-Pasadena).

“Deadly force incidents leave a lasting imprint on our communities and the officers involved. We need to develop targeted, effective solutions that can prevent the likelihood of these incidents,” said Attorney General Becerra.

“AB 284 will, for the first time, take a comprehensive look that ensures facts, not innuendo, guide state policy. As the State’s chief law enforcement officer, I want to ensure that appropriate policies, training and oversight and accountability mechanisms are in place to keep our communities and peace officers safe.”

Under AB 284, the DOJ would be required to evaluate officer-involved shooting incidents resulting in death or serious injury occurring between January 1, 2015, and December 31, 2016.

Pursuant to the bill, DOJ would study the nature and circumstances of officer-involved shootings across the state, including examining the policies, procedures, and training in place at the employing agency of the officer.

The bill also would require the DOJ to prepare a written report describing its findings and recommendations.

His previous effort in 2015, AB 86, which would have required that any officer-involved shooting that results in the death of a civilian must be reviewed by an independent law enforcement panel established within the California Department of Justice, fell shy of the votes needed.

This time, Assemblymember McCarty had particular concern over the handling of some local cases like Dazion Flenaugh and Joseph Mann.

Following the decision by the Sacramento DA not to charge the officers who killed Mr. Mann, Assemblymember McCarty released a statement, “Like many Sacramentans who saw the video, I question the conclusion by the D.A. that police acted within reason in the shooting and killing of Joseph Mann.”

He said, “For far too long, there has been distrust surrounding police shootings and the decisions by local D.A.’s that work closely with police officers.  This decision, coupled with the decision of Ezell Ford in Los Angeles, is yet another example of why we need an independent investigation for an officer involved shooting where a civilian is killed.”

The assemblymember told the Vanguard that “the bill talks about the need to improve the public trust in officer involved shooting investigations.

“Unfortunately we see these events continuously – now we see them with our own eyes with body cameras and dashboard cameras,” he explained.  “It’s a system right now that is untenable in trying to focus on public trust and integrity of the process.  There’s an inherent conflict of interest with our local DA’s and law enforcement.

“Our local DA’s really can’t police the police,” he added.  “I’m convinced that there has to be a better way about going about the process and bringing more independence and public trust along the way.”

In the meantime, it was similar concerns that prompted Assemblymember Phil Ting of San Francisco to push for legislation that would make law enforcement body camera recordings subject to public disclosure through the Public Records Act.

“The growing lack of trust between communities and the law enforcement officers who protect them has led to the growing use of body cameras. If body cameras are to strengthen public trust, then we need a statewide standard for the release of body camera footage to the public,” said Assemblymember Ting.

He added, “If a picture is worth a thousand words, a video is worth millions. It’s time we let the footage speak for itself. Withholding these recordings is perceived as hiding information, and this only causes mistrust, especially when there are incidents of alleged officer-involved uses of force.”

Sponsored by the California Newspaper Publishers Association (CNPA) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Assembly Bill (AB) 748 would allow law enforcement agencies to withhold a video or audio recording if the public’s interest in nondisclosure outweighs public concern. In 2015, the Police Chiefs Association estimated that 20 percent of California police departments had deployed body-worn cameras on their officers, and that number has been growing.

In 2014, the United States Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services released a report recommending that agencies should release footage in some cases to show that an officer was in compliance with the law, or show that the agency is taking appropriate action against the officer.

“California is the case study for a bad body camera access policy. Under the Public Records Act today, there is no way to compel an agency to disclose footage, even (when) there is significant public interest in knowing what happened,” said Nikki Moore, Legal Counsel for CNPA. “AB 748 addresses this gap in the law by mandating the disclosure of some footage, when there is a heightened interest in disclosure, like when an officer uses deadly force against a citizen.”

“AB 748 is crucial to ensuring that body cameras fulfill their promise of improved transparency and accountability for law enforcement,” said Lizzie Buchen, legislative advocate with the ACLU of California’s Center for Advocacy and Policy.  “After all, body cameras are tools, and whether they help achieve these goals depends on the policies governing their use. With AB 748, body cameras may achieve their purpose as law enforcement oversight mechanisms by giving Californians access to critical footage, including incidents of police violence and misconduct.”

AB 748 would require the release of all footage after 120 days, providing a lengthy period of time for agencies to conduct their own investigations, and also prohibits an agency from providing recordings to third-party vendors, except for the purpose of data storage.

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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