Will Governor Newsom sign new police laws after George Floyd protests? Here are his options

Thursday, September 3, 2020

By Hannah Wiley for the Sacramento Bee

California lawmakers sent Gov. Gavin Newsom a pack of bills intended to rein in police misconduct, but stopped short of passing two high-profile measures that would have restricted law enforcement officers’ use of rubber bullets and make it easier to fire cops.

The setbacks disappointed some activists and lawmakers who wanted more after the nationwide protests that followed the May killing by asphyxiation of George Floyd, a Black man, while in custody of Minneapolis officers.

“To ignore the thousands of voices calling for meaningful police reform is insulting,” Sen. Steven Bradford, D-Gardena, said in a statement after his bill to decertify problematic officers stalled on Monday in the Assembly. “Today, Californians were once again let down by those who were meant to represent them.”

But, advocates for police accountability accomplished a number of other goals in sending bills to Newsom that aim to increase outside oversight of local police departments and ban officers from using chokeholds while detaining suspects. 

Lawmakers approved a pilot program to fund community crisis organizations that can respond to emergencies with civilian resources, as well as a measure to discourage the hiring of officers with misconduct investigations on their records.

“I’m pleased we were able to push forward a number of important police reform bills,” said Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento. “There was disappointment, but we can’t ignore the fact we were able to get a number of police reform wins across the finish line.” 
The toughest bills didn’t pass, but here’s what did:

More investigations

The Legislature passed two bills aimed at providing independent, outside oversight of law enforcement agencies.
One by McCarty would require the state’s attorney general’s office to more frequently investigate police killings of unarmed people instead of local district attorneys. 

The measure, Assembly Bill 1506, passed the Legislature with bipartisan support, though the California State Sheriffs’ Association has argued the bill “unnecessarily politicizes very difficult situations that are already subject to a very high level of review at multiple levels.”
The second measure, also by McCarty, would allow voters and county boards of supervisors to create sheriff oversight boards with the authority to issue subpoenas. McCarty’s Assembly Bill 1185 was partly inspired by Sacramento Sheriff Scott Jones, who attempted to locked out an inspector general appointed to investigate the death of Mikel McIntyre, an unarmed Black man shot on Highway 50 in May 2017.

Flagging problematic officers

Assembly Bill 1299 would require a law enforcement agency to alert the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training if the officer resigns or is terminated during a misconduct investigation. The department then would have to complete its review and follow up with additional details of the findings, creating records that would be disclosed if an officer tries to find another job in law enforcement.
The Senate passed the measure on a bipartisan, 39-0 vote, and the Assembly followed up with a 76-0 vote.

Another proposal, Assembly Bill 846, would require departments to include in their evaluations of prospective officers any bias against demographics like race, gender, sexual orientation or religion. The proposal would also require recruiting materials to highlight community relations as part of the job.

Demonstrators kneel at fence as California Highway Patrol officers guard the state Capitol on Sunday, May 31, 2020, during a protest over the death of George Floyd. Floyd died in Minneapolis Monday after being detained by police. Paul Kitagaki Jr. pkitagaki@sacbee.com 

Banning chokeholds

A high-profile measure that’s already earned Newsom’s approval is Assembly Bill 1196, which would ban carotid artery restraints and choke holds in California. The technique caught national attention this summer after Floyd died from an officer kneeling on his neck for several minutes.

Newsom said in June that officers shouldn’t use such tactics that are “designed to stop people’s blood from flowing into their brain,” and called for banning “strangleholds that put people’s lives at risk.”

Community crisis programs

Activists this summer demanded state strip funding from law enforcement agencies and instead put dollars into local crisis organizations with ties to their neighborhoods.

Assembly Bill 2054, which passed the Legislature with bipartisan support, would create a pilot grant program to financially equip community organizations with handling certain crises instead of law enforcement.

“That’s what people want. They want emergencies stopped and problems solved,” said Assemblywoman Sydney Kamlager, D-Los Angeles. “They don’t want law enforcement to come in and arrest folks.”

Allowing media access

Another bill would let media representatives into areas closed off by law enforcement during demonstrations and rallies, and would prohibit officers from citing the press. 

Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, said Senate Bill 629 “would protect our First Amendment rights and allow the press to be able to do their job in holding all of us in government accountable.”

What Newsom won’t sign

The bills that did not make it to Newsom include a proposal to decertify concerning misconduct records. Senate Bill 731 by Bradford also would have made it easier for excessive or deadly force victims and their families to file lawsuits against law enforcement for alleged civil rights violations.

Police unions worked until the last minute to block SB 731, which they called a “flawed bill that would have had debilitating repercussions for police officers.”

RACE Matters SLO County held a rally in San Luis Obispo to protest violence against people of color in America in response to the death of black man, George Floyd, while in police custody in Minneapolis. Laura Dickinson ldickinson@thetribunenews.com 

Lawmakers also did not pass a bill that would have restricted when officers can use rubber bullets and pepper spray, and would have banned tear gas as a way to control crowds.

Speaking in support of the Assembly Bill 66 during a recent press event, Shantania Love said she was shot in the face with a rubber bullet during a George Floyd protest at the end of May in Sacramento.

Love said she’s now permanently blind in her left eye and suffers from a resulting brain injury. 

“These aren’t ‘less-lethal weapons,’” Love said. “Not to me or the people who have been injured or disabled by them.” Law enforcement agencies fought the bill, arguing tear gas can be effective in dispersing crowds.