Four California DAs Call on Victims’ Compensation Board to Provide Support for Victims of Police Violence

Diana Becton, Contra Costa DA speaking at Hastings in February

Vanguard Staff

Last week, San Francisco DA Chesa Boudin announced a plan to provide victim support services to victims of police violence in San Francisco.  This week, he and three of his progressive DA colleagues are pushing to make it statewide.

On Thursday, Boudin was joined by District Attorney of Contra Costa County Diana Becton; District Attorney of San Joaquin County Tori Verber Salazar; and Former District Attorney of San Francisco County George Gascón in signing a letter calling for the California Victims’ Compensation Board to change its regulations to allow for victims of police violence to qualify for victims’ compensation.  The requested change would ensure that people directly impacted by police violence would be able to qualify for resources like medical and mental health coverage and funeral and burial expenses.

“In large part due to the advocacy of the families of victims of police violence, my office recently created a policy to allow San Franciscan victims and witnesses of law enforcement violence to receive the kinds of compensation any other crime victim could access,” said District Attorney Boudin.  “Victims and their families should not be forced to turn to GoFundMe accounts to cover funeral, burial, and medical expenses.  We are now calling on the California Victims’ Compensation Board to apply this policy state-wide and to ensure that victims of law enforcement violence across California are compensated as crime victims as well.”

“We have to break down barriers that create two classes of victims,” said San Joaquin County District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar.

“The fact that it’s more difficult for the state to provide help when a representative of the state takes a life is backwards,” said former District Attorney George Gascón. “Unaddressed trauma is either turned inwards or outwards, neither is positive for the victim or the broader community. We must lower the bar to entry to ensure more people receive the help they need, not less.”

“We must strengthen the protections and resources for victims of police violence,” said Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton. “This much-needed change at the state will help victims get the support they need.”

Under the current regulations of the Victims’ Compensation Board (VCB), in order to access victims’ compensation benefits, victims and witnesses of crime in most cases need documentation from a police report to certify their status as crime victims.  In cases where law enforcement officers themselves are the perpetrators of violence, officers often have a self-interest in failing to provide corroboration and documentation admitting to inflicting violence.  As a result, victims of police violence and their families are left to fend for themselves to cover the costs associated with funerals, burials, or medical expenses incurred as a result.

Under current VCB regulations, the only exceptions to the requirement for police report corroboration currently in effect are for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or human trafficking, who can substitute other documentation like medical records or mental health records instead of police reports.  The District Attorneys’ letter to the VCB calls on the Board to develop guidelines to include victims and witnesses of law enforcement violence, and instead permit them to submit medical records, mental health documentation, or reports from the District Attorney’s Office investigators to access crime victims’ compensation.  The District Attorneys are also requesting that, in addition to victims, direct witnesses of police violence should also have access to victim compensation—including counseling service, relocation and other services—just as other witnesses to violent crime.

These proposed changes would also protect peaceful protestors, who frequently are excluded from victims’ compensation when law enforcement use violence and fail to corroborate protestors’ accounts.  Individuals exercising their right to assemble frequently are protesting against police violence and may be disinclined to report an incident of police violence to law enforcement officers.

The District Attorneys’ letter to the VCB comes as the nation grieves and protests in response to numerous recent incidents of police violence and killings of Black people.  District Attorney Boudin has quickly implemented a series of reforms in recent weeks aimed at police accountability and prevention of police violence and racial biases by law enforcement.  His office’s policy of protecting and supporting victims and witnesses of police violence by permitting them to access compensation was widely heralded and pushed District Attorney Boudin to convince the VCB to remove barriers for victims of police violence statewide.

Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs, a member of the VCB, supports the changes.  “Survivors of police violence deserve the same compensation and access to healing that we give to other survivors of violence. After learning about the policy changes made at the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office, I reached out to VCB staff requesting that we make the same changes statewide,” he explained. “As the Golden State, we must continue to lead and I call on my fellow board members to join me in making the necessary policy changes.”

Victims’ advocates emphasized the need for expanding the Victims’ Compensation Board eligibility to include survivors of law enforcement violence.  “Survivors of crime, and in particular those who have survived police violence and their families, have been calling for these much-needed reforms for decades and it’s crucial we continue to push forward in this moment,” said Tinisch Hollins, California State Director for Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, the nation’s largest network of survivors of crime. “Experiencing violence at the hands of police can be especially traumatizing and we must take special care that survivors have every ability to access the services and support needed for healing. The safety of our communities demands it.”

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