California Attorney General Announces Police Reform Recommendations

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra sits for a 2018 interview in Sacramento, Calif. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

(CN) — Police officers will be able to intervene when they see another officer using excessive or unnecessary force and other police reforms were announced by the California attorney general on Monday, less than a month after the death of George Floyd by a white police officer sparked nationwide protests against police violence.

Large-scale protests for police reform have dominated headlines for weeks and even calls to reduce funding for police have gained momentum with calls to divert funding to other forms of public services like mental health outreach.

The list of recommendations announced Monday by Attorney General Xavier Becerra included de-escalation when possible before an officer can use force, a ban on chokeholds, verbal warnings when feasible and forbidding the use of “bite and hold” used by police dogs.

Becerra said his office would also support or sponsor legislation for major criminal justice reform.

The recommendations announced Monday were only that — recommendations — and would be up to the individual departments to follow those policies.

When asked during a video conference call what effect his office could have on these recommendations when police unions and local municipalities had the choice to call for these reforms, Becerra said some were already adopted by some departments across the state.

“Let’s recognize this is a moment for America,” Becerra said. “More than a moment, this is a movement.”

Becerra said that law enforcement agencies were receptive to these changes, but he was not specific on which departments or policies he was referring to.

He said his office would “put all ideas forward and decide on a good intersection where we can get things done.”

Becerra was on his backfoot for a moment when asked by a reporter about the defund police movement.

“I’m not sure what that means,” Becerra said.

Becerra asked if that includes removing the budget for local or state law enforcement or tasks force that seize illegal firearms from felons.

“Again, if I could have a better understanding… if it means reforming the way we police in California I’m all for that,” he said.

Some of the recommendations were already made by Becerra’s office more than a year ago in a report published on the use of force by the San Francisco Police Department.

This month San Francisco police announced they would no longer respond to non-criminal calls and Becerra’s office said it would review the Vallejo Police Department due to its long history of fatal police shootings of unarmed people.

Possible legislation that Becerra said his office would get behind includes the decertification of police officers for serious misconduct, expanding reviews of law enforcement policies and practices statewide, bias training and limitations on crowd control techniques.

Police officers in Los Angeles fired pepper balls and launched tear-gas at peaceful protesters during multiple days of protests over Floyd’s killing earlier this month.

The California AG’s office announced they will send investigators to the city of Palmdale in Los Angeles County, where a black man was found hanging from a tree last week.

LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said Monday authorities have deferred, pending further investigation, the cause of death of the man who was found last Wednesday.

County officials initially said 24-year-old Robert Fuller’s death was consistent with a suicide based on preliminary findings.

The county’s early determination in the case sparked protests in Palmdale by Fuller’s family and community members who called for a full investigation into what they described as a lynching that took place as nationwide protests challenge police violence and white supremacy.

“This is obviously of great concern to the community not only in Palmdale but throughout the nation,” Villanueva said in a press conference Monday. “Robert Fuller was a young man in the prime of his life. It’s in our interest to leave no rock unturned.”

Villanueva said investigators will meet with Fuller’s family, examine local surveillance video that may have captured the circumstances of his death and interview a caseworker assigned to Fuller.

Senator Dianne Feinstein said an investigation was needed in the case.

“In both cases these men were relatively young, African-American and found hanging from trees. There’s no question that these cases must be fully investigated and any subsequent reports made public. Two deaths, 10 days apart and in a manner consistent with one of the darkest periods in our country’s history can’t be brushed off lightly.

“I’m pleased that Attorney General Xavier Becerra has committed to monitor the investigation of Mr. Fuller’s death in Palmdale. And that the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s office is coordinating with the attorney general’s office on the investigation into Mr. Harsch’s death in Victorville.

“It’s only appropriate that these deaths be investigated for any possible racial motivations and any cause beyond suicide.”

The probe will be monitored by the FBI’s Civil Rights Division in LA and by Becerra, who was asked by LA County Supervisor Kathryn Barger to audit the county investigation.

LA County Medical Examiner-Coroner Jonathan Lucas told reporters Monday an autopsy on Fuller’s body was conducted June 12 and that his office is awaiting results of toxicology tests and a probe of his medical history.

“The initial report appeared consistent with suicide but we felt it prudent to roll that back and continue to look deeper,” Lucas said. “Officially, it’s still deferred and under investigation.”

Villanueva will hold a virtual town hall with Palmdale and Lancaster residents Monday afternoon.

Authorities in San Bernardino County are also investigating the death of Malcolm Harsch, a black man who was found hanging from a tree in Victorville, California on May 31, less than 50 miles from where Fuller’s body was found.

Officials had also initially determined Harsch’s death was likely suicide.

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