California Police Accountability Bills Head to Governor’s Desk

LOS ANGELES (CN) – In the final days of the legislative session, California lawmakers passed a set of bills calling for tougher regulations on police conduct, including opening some police misconduct records, protecting health privacy information from warrantless searches and regulating police acquisition of military-grade equipment.

In a race to beat the close-of-session deadline, the California State Assembly passed Senate Bill 1421 late Friday evening. The bill will release to the public details about law enforcement officers’ misconduct in cases involving deadly force, falsified evidence or sexual assault while on duty.

The bill, introduced by Senator Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, passed 41-27 after coming up short twice in earlier floor votes.

Skinner tweeted that the measure is “history in the making.”

“Californians have a right to know when officers are dishonest, use deadly force,” Skinner said.

Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, said the bill – which he described as a “reasonable and fair proposal” – will improve trust between the public and law enforcement.

“Sunlight is the best disinfectant,” Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham, R-San Luis Obispo, added. He said he crossed the aisle to support the bill because it allowed police departments to halt the release of misconduct records during relevant investigations.

Police shot and killed 172 people in California in 2017, according to lawmakers.

In a separate 41-23 vote, lawmakers passed a bill by Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, that would release into public record the video and audio from police officer-worn body cameras and dashcams from squad cards.

The California News Publishers Association proposed Assembly Bill 748, citing the difficulty journalists encounter getting body-camera footage of police officers accused of shootings or using excessive force.

Police accountability advocates see the bill as a crucial update to the California Public Records Act, which does not currently require the release of bodycam footage.

The bill limits release of police camera media content to incidents in which an officer used deadly force.

“This is a good government measure that provides greater insight into [use-of-force incidents],” Ting said on the Assembly floor Friday. “The bill doesn’t force [law enforcement] to release videos during investigations.”

Assemblywoman Sydney Kamlager-Dove, D-Los Angeles, said any videos or audio could be used to train officers.

Assemblywoman Marie Waldron, R-Escondido, said she voted against the bill because the release of videos could “tip off potential suspects and give them time to adjust their stories to fit the videos.”

Approximately 20 percent of California police officers wear body cameras.

Both police accountability bills passed with the bare minimum of 41 votes.

On Thursday, the California Senate passed a bill establishing regulations for law enforcement’s acquisition of military equipment with a 42-36 vote.

Assembly Bill 3131, introduced by Assemblymembers Todd Gloria, D-San Diego, and David Chiu, D-San Francisco, will require police and sheriff’s departments across the state to hold public hearings before acquiring military-grade equipment for local law enforcement.

“Often times, agencies acquire military equipment without communities knowing beforehand and without any accountability mechanisms in place,” Eva Britton, staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union said in a statement Thursday. “AB 3131 will restore much-needed transparency and accountability to the process.”

Thursday also saw the passage of a bill prohibiting warrantless and nonconsensual collection of minors’ DNA.

In a statement Friday, the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties said AB 1584 will eliminate “loopholes” by requiring police departments to obtain parental consent, a warrant or a court order to collect samples from minors.

DNA samples can reveal “highly private information, including familial relationships, propensity for certain diseases and other personal characteristics,” the statement added.

The bill, which was introduced by Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, D-San Diego, passed 55-0.

The four bills now head to Governor Jerry Brown’s desk.

But not all police accountability bills sailed through this year’s session. On Wednesday, lawmakers shelved a bill to update California’s “reasonable force” guidelines.

Assembly Bill 931, introduced by Assemblymembers McCarty and Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, would have mandated the use of alternatives to deadly force such as de-escalation tactics or non-lethal weapons.

Officers that didn’t follow the new guidelines would risk losing their jobs or facing criminal charges.

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