Four Prosecutors Announce Co-Sponsorship of AB 767 Supporting Victims of Police Violence

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The events surrounding the death of George Floyd have led to a number of police reform bills to be introduced in the state legislature this term.  That includes legislation that would allow the victims of police violence to receive compensation as would the victim of any sort of crime.

AB 767 would expand California Victim Compensation Board coverage to include victims of police violence. District Attorney Boudin and former San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon, San Joaquin District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar, and Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton issued a letter in June to the Victim Compensation Board calling on the Board to expand its coverage to ensure protections for victims of police violence.

Each of the four current and former District Attorneys cosponsored A.B. 767, which would put into effect the changes they had previously called on the Board to make.

“In June, our office created an internal policy committing to providing compensation to victims of police violence in San Francisco even when California law excludes them,” said District Attorney Boudin.

He added, “But it isn’t just San Franciscans who should be protected when victimized by police; no one in California should have to rely on a GoFundMe account to pay for funeral expenses after a loved one is killed by law enforcement. AB 767 is necessary to ensure that all Californians who have been victimized by police are compensated for their expenses and given an opportunity to heal.”

A.B. 767 expands access to victim compensation and removes barriers faced by victims and witnesses of police violence.  The bill seeks to expand eligibility to apply for victims’ compensation from the California Victim Compensation Board (“CalVCB”) to ensure that victims of police violence are covered—just like other crime victims.

Under the current CalVCB regulations, in order to access victims’ compensation benefits, victims and witnesses of crime typically need to provide corroboration from a police report to certify their status as crime victims.  Yet officers who inflict violence or excessive force have a vested self-interest in failing to document their own misconduct.

The current law perpetuates inherent inequalities in the system as victims of police violence are forced to find other means to pay medical costs and, in the worst cases, funeral expenses. Those victims must fend for themselves to cover expenses caused directly by police violence—including funeral and burial costs.  To address this coverage gap, the bill expands acceptable verification documentation to allow victims of police violence to use medical records, mental health documentation and other records to verify their accounts.

“We have to break down the barriers that create two classes of victims,” said San Joaquin County District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar.  “Criminal justice is one part public safety and one part healing those who have been harmed. Tools that help people heal should never be denied to victims.”

A.B. 767 also removes additional obstacles for victims and witnesses of police violence.  The bill will permit people who do not cooperate with the police to receive coverage—which will ensure that those who protest police abuse or those who may be fearful of police contact are eligible for victims’ compensation.  It will also remedy the current exclusion of victims who are deemed to have contributed to the incident in which they were hurt.

A.B. 767 will also expand the definitions of “crime” and “victim” to ensure that victims of police violence are covered—including incidents in which no one was arrested or charged. The bill also aims to correct the racial inequities that result when there is no currently available compensation for victims of police violence, who are disproportionately people of color.

A.B. 767 builds off of a recent policy implemented by District Attorney Boudin in San Francisco.  Pursuant to that directive, the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office provides compensation to victims and witnesses of police violence in San Francisco. That policy is, of course, limited to San Francisco, and District Attorney Boudin previously called on the CalVCB to expand its coverage so that all victims and witnesses of police violence in California would be covered.

“Victim compensation is an essential step toward healing for victims of crime, but current restrictions can often limit access to recompense for survivors and their families,” said Gena Castro Rodriguez, Chief of the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office’s Victims’ Services Division. “Victims of police violence and their families are locked out of support, particularly Black victims who are disproportionately affected by police violence. AB 767 will help survivors and their families heal from the trauma they have experienced at the hands of police.”

A.B. 767 is coauthored by Assemblymember Tim Grayson and Assembleymember Sydney Kamlager, and cosponsored by District Attorneys Boudin, Salazar, and Becton as well as many other lawmakers and community groups, including Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice.   The California Senate Public Safety Committee is scheduled to consider the bill today, Friday, August 7, 2020.

“Police may face circumstances in which they use force, and that reality creates a conflict of interest since California law also gives them significant influence over determinations of who is and who is not a victim,” said Former District Attorney George Gascón. “When it comes to incidents where police use force, we need to get police out of the business of deciding who is the aggressor and who is the victim.”

“All victims of crime deserve to be made whole. Unfortunately, if someone is a victim of police violence they are largely discouraged and prohibited from applying to the California Victim Compensation Board to obtain services related to counseling or having their medical bills covered,” said Contra Costa District Attorney Diana Becton. “Moreover, family members are prohibited from receiving funds to cover funeral costs if their loved one dies as a result of an encounter with law enforcement. This much needed change in policy will close a loophole in state law and provide justice by ensuring all victims of crime can get the resources they need and deserve.”

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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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