By Mia Machado
SAN FRANCISCO – San Francisco District Attorney Boudin this week announced his co-sponsorship of SB 299 in the Legislature, a first-in-the-nation bill that would extend services to victims of police violence.
SB 299, authored by Senator Connie Leyva (SD-20), passed unanimously, 5-0, through the California Senate Committee on Public Safety.
“Advocacy for victims must include all victims and survivors, regardless of who caused the harm,” said District Attorney Boudin. “That’s why my office started a first-in-the state program in 2020 to ensure that our Victim Services Division compensates victims of police violence like any other victim.”
DA Boudin said he is pleased to cosponsor SB 299, in order to “ensure that victims of police violence across the entire state can similarly access services and support.”
Under existing law, victims of specified types of crimes are eligible to receive compensation from the California Victim Compensation Board’s Restitution Fund. That compensation can assist with various needs such as medical expenses, burial expenses, wage and income loss.
SB 299 extends this eligibility to include incidents in which an individual sustains serious bodily injury or death as a result of a law enforcement officer’s use of force. Compensation is provided regardless of whether the law enforcement officer is arrested for, charged with, or convicted of committing a crime.
Bill author Sen. Leyva argued that it is “unacceptable” that receiving assistance through the Victim Compensation program relies heavily on police reports and the opinion of police, especially when the injuries were sustained as a result of police actions.
SB 299 “ensures that survivors of police violence and loved ones of those killed by police are no longer dependent on either a police report documenting the victimization, which is often elusive, or the opinion of involved police when assessing a victim’s responsibility,” Sen. Leyva said.
She explained that it will improve access to vital resources for victims of police violence “as they recover from the physical and emotional injuries caused due to the actions of police or—in the cases of individuals killed by police—be able to bury their loved ones with dignity and respect.”
The state’s Victim Compensations program currently allows use of evidence beyond police reports for victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, and human trafficking. Victims of police violence “deserve similar recognition of their circumstances so that they can get fair access to the help they need,” she said.
Serafín Serrano, who lives in Los Angeles, shared how he was denied eligibility for the Victim Compensations program for his nephew despite receiving compensation for the murder of his brother Theodore in 1986.
After a decade of his brother’s passing, Serrano took guardianship of nephew Ernie. 34 years later when his nephew was killed by police, “we were left to fend for ourselves,” said Serrano, adding “It’s tragic and offensive that the law suggests the circumstances of my nephew’s death means my family is not a victim.”
“The family is experiencing immense shock, grief, pain and sorrow and we deserve to be recognized as victims and provided fundamentally humane resources to ameliorate the loss, and have support through the healing process,” he added.
In addition to being cosponsored by District Attorney Boudin, SB 299 is also co-sponsored by California Controller Betty Yee, Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón, Californians for Safety and Justice, the Prosecutors Alliance of California, and Youth Alive.
Many others have voiced their support for its passage.
Controller Betty Yee, California’s chief fiscal officer, asserted that “we cannot tolerate treating victims of police violence with any less care and compassion than we extend to other crime victims.”
She emphasized the need to ensure a just, fair, and peaceful society, and that “this expansion of victim compensation is one small step in that work.”
“When a family loses a loved one, the pain that they endure is unimaginable. When that loss is the result of police violence, it’s even more destabilizing,” said Tinisch Hollins, Executive Director of Californians for Safety and Justice.
“Individuals who have had contact with the justice system are often treated as social pariahs, especially when they are harmed or killed by police,” Hollins believes SB 299 will help end the “pattern of those stigmas and sanctions being passed down to family members who are forced to grieve publicly with no support.”
Prosecutors Alliance Executive Director Cristine Soto DeBerry stated that “no one should have to start a GoFundMe page to cover the costs of burying a loved one lost to violence.”
“We cannot continue to let the police decide who is a ‘deserving’ victim,” said Youth ALIVE! Director of Programs, Kyndra Simmons. “This has prevented many survivors and victims, including victims of police violence, from accessing the resources and support meant to help them heal.”
SB 299 will be heard next by the Senate Committee on Appropriations.
Mia Machado is a junior at UC Davis, currently majoring in Political Science-Public Service and minoring in Luso-Brazilian studies. She is originally from Berkeley, California.
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