The Checks and Balances of the check and balances

SACRAMENTO (CBM) – The California legislature has taken concrete steps to try to address officer police shootings. Assembly Budget Subcommittee 5 on Public Safety has announced it will create a unit of the Department of Justice (DOJ) designated to investigate officer shootings. The committee also allocated $9.7 million to fund the team through 2018-19. The DOJ team will consist of three groups of investigators in three regions of the state. However, the investigations still have to be requested by a local law enforcement agency or district attorney.

Assemblymember Kevin McCarty (D- Sacramento) applauded the move, according to a news release. “Continued incidents of officer-involved shootings of civilians have caused a growing public skepticism of law enforcement and a conflict of interest for local district attorneys investigating officers,” said McCarty. “Today’s action will help build public trust and confidence in these investigations by allowing an independent review of these incidents by professionals within the California Department of Justice. Taxpayers and the families of those killed by law enforcement deserve nothing less.” McCarty attempted to pass legislation that would have addressed police shootings. McCarthy’s Assembly Bill 284, would have required independent investigations of police shootings, but it stalled in the legislature. According to a 2017 California Black Media story, Betty Williams, president of the Sacramento NAACP, said the bill had been gutted during the “July 3 massacre.” AB 284 also faced pushback from law enforcement unions. The Police Officers Research Association of California (PORAC) called SB 284 a “waste of taxpayers’ dollars.”

Rev K.W. Tulloss, NAN western regional director said, “This is a good start. I applaud the legislature on its progressive move towards dealing with officer-involved shootings in a fairer manner.” State Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena) in a hearing last year said California’s record on prosecuting police shootings was embarrassing. He said there had been hundreds of police shootings in California, but only five officers had been prosecuted and only two convicted.

“We as a legislative body should be troubled at the number of unarmed individuals who’ve been killed (by police) over the last couple of years,” said Bradford. However, proponents of AB 284 said it was necessary because local district attorneys can’t be trusted to investigate the same officers who they rub shoulders with every day. In many cases, district attorneys rely on donations from police unions in their races. The Sacramento Bee reported that Sacramento District Attorney Ann Marie Schubert received $13,000 from two local police unions days after Stephon Clark was shot dead minutes after the arrival of local officers. In addition, the Intercept reported that Schubert had received $420,000 from police unions for her three political campaigns. That accounts for a third of her donations. Civil rights activist Rev. Shane Harris, president of the San Diego chapter of the National Action Network (NAN,) has been a frequent critic of California legislators and Attorney General Xavier Becerra for their lack of action on police shootings. But he considers the recent news a step forward. “This is great news to see California finally taking progressive steps on this issue,” said Harris in a press statement.

“It is long overdue since we have in fact led the nation in police shootings for some years now. Other leaders and I in California have been raising this issue to public light for the longest. The Attorney General’s office will now have the money and hopefully a little more staff to take on these shootings where the DOJ is invited in.” Harris said funding a DOJ investigative team was a temporary fix to the problem. “We need solid legislation passed in California’s future where the attorney general doesn’t have to depend on being invited in he can get involved when and where he needs to,” said Harris. Harris said California sees itself as a progressive state, but it’s lagging behind when it comes to prosecuting police murders. According to McCarthy’s press release, Wisconsin, New York, Illinois and Connecticut, all have legislation that requires independent investigation of police shootings. However, the legislature has not given up on passing legislation to punish police misconduct.

The Senate Appropriations Committee has recommended moving forward with Senate Bill 1421. The bill, introduced by Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley,) requires the opening of use of force records in misconduct cases. The bill will now be considered for a vote by the Senate. SB 1421 is sponsored by organizations such as the Alliance for Boys and Men of Color, ACLU of California, Anti Police-Terror Project, Black Lives Matter California, California Faculty Association and the California News Publishers Association.