California Passes Landmark Police Transparency and Accountability Legislation

SB 1421 will restore Californians’ right to know whether and how departments investigate and hold accountable officers who use force, plant evidence or sexually assault civilians.

(From Press Release) – Today, the California Assembly voted to approve Senate Bill 1421. Introduced by Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), the historic legislation will make public information about officers who shoot, kill, or engage in serious misconduct like falsifying evidence or committing sexual assault while on the job.

“Today’s vote marks a tremendous victory in the fight for police accountability and brings hope for the people of California,” said Pastor Les Simmons of PICO California.

For the past four decades, California has barred public access to police misconduct and use of force records, ranking as the most secretive state in the country. Under existing law, not even prosecutors are allowed access to records of officers found guilty of committing egregious misconduct under the cover of authority, even those with a history of planting evidence or lying in police reports. California police departments are also barred from sharing with the public the factual findings of their investigations following police shootings. Nearly half of states in the country make some or all police misconduct records available to the public.

“For years, black, brown, indigenous, and poor communities have been subjected to systemic harassment, violence and brutality by police but left little recourse to pursue justice,” said ­­­­­­Melina Abdullah, a Cal State LA Professor, California Faculty Association Affirmative Action Representative and Black Lives Matter Los Angeles Chapter founder.  “SB 1421 will finally shine a bright light on whether and how police departments are holding officers accountable for these abuses of power.”

SB 1421 will make public three categories of information that are specific to the powers of police officers or their potential for abuse:

  • use of deadly force;
  • sexual assault tied to the abuse of power to coerce a victim into sexual acts; and
  • perjury or the fabrication of evidence tied to police officers’ unique powers in investigating and prosecuting crimes.

“Black and Brown youth across the state are celebrating the passage of SB 1421,” said Anthony Robles with the Youth Justice Coalition LA. “Transparency is especially important to youth of color who are the majority of those impacted by use of force and misconduct. Growing up I was constantly subjected to stop and frisk, searches, and on physical violence on two occasions at the hands of police. I never felt safe to report a complaint, but now that SB 1421 is law, police cannot hide behind their blue wall.”

The bill now heads to the governor for his consideration.

“For victims and families of police violence, the odds have long been stacked against us,” said Theresa Smith, Founder and Executive Director for Law Enforcement Accountability Network. “With SB 1421, California will empower local communities and families seeking accountability. We commend the Assembly for passing SB 1421 and call on Governor Brown to sign the bill into law.”

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