Sacramento aims to police the police

Sacramento aims to police the police

police lapel camAfter a politically punishing year for law enforcement departments from Los Angeles to New York, California legislators are riding the wave of controversy, drafting a spate of bills that would use the power of state government to assert more control over how police officers do their jobs.

The move exploits an unusual situation that has developed in Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration. When it comes to criminal justice, Brown’s attention is largely consumed with “realignment” — his effort to satisfy a series of court orders on prison crowding by shifting inmates, costs and responsibilities from the state’s prisons to county jails.

But Attorney General Kamala Harris sees police conduct as central; in her inauguration address, she drew special attention to what she called a statewide “crisis of confidence” in law enforcement, driven by a “string of injustice” running through urban and minority communities.

There have been bumps in the road even for Harris, however. “While Harris’ office recently launched a plan to investigate and improve bias and use-of-force training for law enforcement, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights has criticized her for pushing back against demands for an independent prosecutor to handle cases of police brutality,” ThinkProgress observed. Politically unable to fully rebuke or embrace Brown’s realignment plan, Harris has also struggled to steer clear of the controversy that surrounds it.

But with Harris now a formidable 2016 contender for the U.S. Senate seat to be vacated by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., state legislators face a moment of opportunity, support and attention historically rare for would-be police reformers.

A unified front

With plenty of ideas to go around, Sacramento Democrats are able to push for their own particular proposals, while maintaining a cohesive approach to policy. Assembly Bill 86, drafted by Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, takes advantage of Harris’ influence and sympathy. As NBC San Diego reported, the bill “would create a law enforcement panel, likely within the state Attorney General’s office, to study each case of a California police officer fatally shooting someone and write reviews or issue recommendations.”

Other legislators have focused on related pieces of legislation. According to U-T San Diego, Assemblyman Freddie Rodriguez, D-Pomona, is at work on two key bills.

The first, an early draft of AB69, would mandate police body cameras throughout the state. (Steve Soboroff, president of the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners, has taken an early lead implementing the technology.)

The second, AB71, would expand federal data collection on California crimes. Currently, U-T reports, the Justice Department gathers self-reported data from law enforcement on “civilian deaths in police custody, including race.” AB71 “would expand that data collection to include non-fatal shootings and injuries sustained by police officers.”

At the same time, Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, is advancing AB66, designed to create a unified set of standard practices for body camera use in California police departments. Body cams are already in use in Weber’s district. So far, the city has already introduced 300 cameras into central and southeastern San Diego.

Up for grabs

For Republicans, the political landscape surrounding policing offers risks and opportunities. In California, the GOP’s overarching position could well be up for grabs.

Nationally, Republicans have begun to adopt a more clement attitude, thanks in part to striking figures that show crime at significant lows. As Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, told The New York Times, “There are a lot of ideas — prison reform, policing, sentencing — being discussed now that wouldn’t be if we hadn’t had this drop in the crime statistics.”

The Senate’s leading unorthodox Republicans, such as Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Rand Paul, R-Ky., carry considerable favor among California’s libertarians and libertarian-leaning Republicans. Paul is considered a contender for the GOP nomination for president in 2016.

In the absence of a strong stance from within the state, Lee and Paul’s support for prison reform could supply California Republicans with adequate political cover to advance some proposals of their own.

3 comments

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  1. Donkey
    Donkey 15 January, 2015, 08:40

    This will lead to nothing but further isolation of the police state members, and in fact is what they are seeking, no one looking in on their activities that are outside the RAGWUS LE cabal. Until the LE RAGWUS is held to the same standard as the citizen, or better yet the standards of the military nothing will change in the sociopathic world of state sponsored LE. 🙂

    Reply this comment
  2. reptile
    reptile 15 January, 2015, 18:09

    Good article. Since when are Mike Lee and Rand Paul, unorthodox Republicans. I would say they are Republicans. No need to insert your editorializing about their strong beliefs, one way or another. Shame on you!

    Reply this comment
  3. Queeg
    Queeg 16 January, 2015, 08:44

    Comrade Gator

    Rand Paul could split off the South and Mt. States with ease. The end of Compassionate Conservatism and the whacko Neocons!

    Reply this comment

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