Governor Brown Signs Landmark Police Reform Legislation

California will soon make police misconduct records available to the public and ensure police departments release of body camera footage of police shootings

(Press Release on SB 1421) – Today Governor Brown signed SB 1421, Senator Nancy Skinner’s (D-Berkeley) legislation that will, for the first time in 40 years, lift the block California has had in place denying public access to any and all police records. SB 1421 opens access to a limited set of investigatory records related to law enforcement use of serious force, on-the-job sexual assault, and dishonesty.

“When incidents such as a police shooting occurs, the public has a right to know that there was a thorough investigation,” said Senator Skinner. “Without access to such records, communities can’t hold our public safety agencies accountable.”

California was alone among states in completely prohibiting public access to law enforcement records. SB 1421 has now overturned these secretive rules, restoring the public’s ability to monitor law enforcement agencies regarding the conduct of their officers.

Before SB 1421, the public, and even hiring agencies, did not have access to internal reports or investigations into officer use of force or serious misconduct. With SB 1421, California can rebuild public trust in law enforcement and end the practice of officers who may have had repeated incidents bouncing from agency to agency undetected.

Under SB 1421, law enforcement agencies are required to provide public access to records related to:
1.    Discharge of a firearm, or use of force that results in death or great bodily injury,
2.    On the job sexual assault, including coercion or exchanging sex for lenience, or
3.    Dishonesty in reporting, investigating or prosecuting a crime.

“SB 1421 lifts decades of secrecy and provides the transparency so necessary to build trust and keep our communities safe,” said Senator Skinner. “With Governor Brown’s signature, California is finally joining other states in granting access to the investigatory records on officer conduct that the public truly has a right to know.”

Governor Brown Signs Landmark Police Reform Legislation Sponsored by ACLU of California

(ACLU’s Press Release) – Today, Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 1421 (Skinner) and Assembly Bill 748 (Ting), historic police reform legislation sponsored by the ACLU of California.

Peter Bibring, Director of Police Practices for the ACLU of California, responded with the following statement:

“We, as a society, confer on law enforcement the unparalleled powers to stop, arrest and use force on people, including deadly force. Unfortunately, over the years, we the people have been stripped of the power to oversee and hold law enforcement accountable for their use – and abuse – of these powers. All too often, we are left in the dark, even as we gain a greater awareness of systemic problems with policing that remain rooted in oppression and racism.

“Today, we stand with communities that have demanded transparency, accountability and justice in the face of widespread police violence and misconduct and applaud Governor Brown for signing SB 1421 and AB 748. We are, however, disappointed that Governor Brown vetoed AB 3131 (Gloria/Chiu), a measure that would have required law enforcement agencies to publish guidelines for the use of military equipment, and given Californians valuable information about how, where, and why that equipment is deployed in our neighborhoods.

“Together, SB 1421 and AB 748 will shine a much-needed light on police violence and abuse. Specifically, SB 1421 restores the public’s right to know how departments investigate and hold accountable those officers who abuse their power to frame, sexually assault, or kill members of the public. AB 748 will ensure law enforcement agencies throughout the state release police recordings of serious uses of force, including body camera footage, which are valuable tools for civilian oversight at a time of growing concern with police violence.

“There is no doubt these two bills will significantly transform policing in California and help address the current crisis in policing which has led to the deaths of far too many people – largely in Black and brown communities.

“Having an open government that is accountable to the people it serves is not merely an ideal to strive for, it is a necessity to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our families and communities. Nowhere is that more apparent than in policing. We look forward to working with our partners to ensure the successful implementation of SB 1421 and AB 748, and continue in our relentless pursuit to achieve racial justice and empower Californians to have a greater say in how their neighborhoods are policed.”

Governor Brown Signs SB 1437, Senator Skinner’s Historic Fix to California’s Unjust Felony Murder Rule

(From Press Release) – Today Governor Brown signed SB 1437, Senator Nancy Skinner’s (D-Berkeley) historic fix to California’s felony murder rule. SB 1437 narrows the definition of felony murder so that individuals are charged appropriately for the crime they actually commit.

“Most people have no idea that under California’s current murder statute you can be charged with murder and given a life sentence even if you didn’t kill or have a direct role in a murder,” said Senator Skinner. “SB 1437 is a fair and reasonable fix to California’s unjust felony murder rule.”

Under California’s long-standing felony murder rule, a person who participated in any portion of certain felonies that result in a death could be charged with first-degree murder. In practice this meant that even if someone was unaware that a killing would or did take place, they could still have faced a first-degree murder charge and received a sentence that was equally as severe as the one handed down to the person who actually committed murder.

SB 1437 restricts the most serious murder charges to those who actually commit a murder, play a major role in a murder or act with reckless indifference to human life. SB 1437 also establishes a process for those who were sentenced under the previous felony murder statute to petition the court for a resentencing hearing.

SB 1437 aligns California with states such as Arkansas, Kentucky, Hawaii, Massachusetts, and Michigan that have narrowed the scope of the felony murder rule and limited the application of their murder statutes.

“California’s murder statute irrationally treated people who did not commit murder the same as those who did. SB 1437 makes clear there is a distinction, reserving the harshest punishment to those who directly participate in the death,” said Skinner. “I’m proud and thankful that Governor Brown signed this historic reform into law.”

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