It was a banner year on police and criminal justice reform issues before the state legislature. The ACLU of California just issued a legislative scorecard on issues they endorsed and showed how all of the legislators voted on them. For our purposes we’re pulling out only the police and criminal justice reform measures to evaluate how Senator Bill Dodd and Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry fared.
A prominent bill not included was SB 1391 on juvenile sentencing. Senator Dodd voted yes while Assemblymember Aguiar-Curry did not vote.
Here are the police/criminal justice related bills evaluated by the ACLU:
AB 748 (Ting) Body Worn Cameras for Police Officers: This bill protects the right of the public to access police body camera footage and other recordings that capture incidents involving officer use of force. Signed.
AB 3131 (Gloria & Chiu) Police Militarization: AB 3131 would have empowered communities to weigh in on how their neighborhoods are policed by requiring that law enforcement agencies propose and publish guidelines for the use of military equipment, and report how, where, and why that equipment is deployed in our communities. Vetoed.
SB 607 (Skinner) Student Discipline: Students of color, as well as students with disabilities and LGBTQ students, are disproportionally suspended in California for minor misbehavior under the vague and subjective categories of “disruption” and “willful defiance.” SB 607 would have eliminated these discriminatory suspensions for students in grades 4-8, encouraging schools to find alternatives to keep students in the classroom where they belong. Vetoed.
SB 923 (Wiener) Eyewitness Identification Reform: By establishing long-overdue state standards requiring best practices for eyewitness identification procedures, SB 923 helps protect the integrity of our justice system and promotes the safety and wellbeing of our communities by preventing wrongful convictions. Signed.
SB 1393 (Mitchell) Sentencing Enhancements: SB 1393 increases the fairness of our justice system by restoring court discretion, in the interest of justice, to strike the five-year sentence enhancement for prior serious felony convictions, when a person is charged with a serious felony. Signed.
SB 1421 (Skinner) Access to Police Misconduct & Use of Force Records: SB 1421 reclaims the public’s right to know about cases of serious police misconduct and deadly uses of force. SB 1421 provides public access to internal police department investigations into officers found guilty of sexual assault, perjury or planting evidence, and officers who shoot, severely injure, or kill a member of the public. Signed.
Overall, on the ACLU’s scorecard which included 13 bills that they were supporting – several over and above the ones on police reform and criminal justice reform – both local legislators had 12 of 13, a 92 percent voting record. They actually fared better than Governor Brown who vetoed four bills, including the Police Militarization Bill and Student Discipline Bill.
In the governor’s veto message, he said, “The list of equipment contemplated by this bill is overbroad-broader than that covered by now-repealed Executive Order 13688 which was the basis for AB 36 (Campos) in 2015, which I also vetoed. The current list not only includes items that are clearly ‘militaristic in style,’ but many that are commonly used by law enforcement and do not merit additional barriers to their acquisition.
“In my view this bill creates an unnecessary bureaucratic hurdle without commensurate public benefit, and I cannot sign it.”
In a statement from Peter Bibring, Director of Police Practices for the ACLU of California, “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.”
Senator Dodd did not vote on SB 748 – the body worn camera legislation.
The Vanguard reached out to his office to understand why.
“I’m supportive of appropriate disclosure of police recordings but had concerns with specific language in this proposal that created unintended consequences,” Sen. Dodd said. “I wanted that fixed before passing it.”
The senator’s office pointed the Vanguard to an excerpt of the Privacy Committee’s analysis of the final version of the bill, which notes “a drafting error” that they believe “could serve to undermine the intent of the bill and would likely be disfavored by law enforcement and privacy advocates alike.”
In their view, “This error, which is the result of language added to the bill with the (version of) July 14, 2018, would result in a recording being provided to a requestor despite potentially violating the privacy of a subject (in) the recording and interfering with an active criminal or administrative investigation.”
The analysis however concluded that because of the implementation delay, there would be time for an urgency measure to address the error prior to the effective date of the bill.
Meanwhile, Assemblymember Aguiar-Curry also supported 12 of 13 ACLU-backed bills, with her exception being SB 1421, the access to police misconduct records.
Chief of Staff John Ferrera told the Vanguard, “The Assemblymember was originally very supportive of the bill and planned to vote for its passage. However, upon reading the final version, the language clearly states that statements by a colleague officer which result in an action against an officer accused of misconduct would be released to the public, thereby chilling the potential that an officer would have the courage to go to the Department to report a fellow officer.”
The language in question: “…factual information about that action of an officer during an incident, or the statements of an officer about an incident, shall be released if they are relevant to a sustained finding against another officer…”
Mr. Ferrera explained, “Colleague officers are often the only persons with access to information about those among them who should not continue to be a police officer or Sheriff. She could not lend her name to a bill which closes that avenue to root out law enforcement officials who should not be in that trusted position.”
He noted that the other transparency bill, AB 748, did not have the fatal flaw.
“The Assemblymember did vote for AB 748, by Assemblymember Ting, which will require the release of body camera footage within 30 days of a critical officer-involved incident. The bill will prevent the practice of waiting months to allow access by the public to video proof of what happened in such circumstances and increase pressure on Law Enforcement and District Attorneys to take action when an officer has used violence without cause,” Mr. Ferrera explained.
Overall it was a strong year in the legislature for police and criminal justice reform, despite the failure of AB 931, which would have changed provisions for police use of force. The bill, authored by Assemblymember Shirley Weber and Assemblymember Kevin McCarty, never made it to a vote.
—David M. Greenwald reporting