Recent Developments in CA Law Enforcement Accountability

*****Disclaimer: This is not legal advice and is for educational purposes only. This does not create an attorney-client privilege.

If you have been paying any attention to the news over the course of the last year, and throughout the years before now, you will have heard of the Black Lives Matter movement and the overwhelming calls for sweeping changes to criminal justice and law enforcement. Though there are widespread calls for defunding the police, so as to divert funds to other greatly needed areas like social work for mental health and community resources, shorter term priorities of the movement include holding law enforcement more accountable.

There are wide spread reports and a plethora of video evidence documenting abuses by law enforcement, such as the use of grossly excessive force and the murder of civilians and flagrant, and often deadly, mistakes and intentional misconduct. These violations beg the question, who is policing our police? There are many examples of departments covering up for officers who break the law, refusing to release body cams, spending millions on settlements and legal protections, and rehiring officers who commit crimes or abuses to departments in different jurisdictions.

Even if you “#BacktheBlue”, you might do well to consider who exactly is served by incompetent officers. You may not want to defund the police or somehow question the validity of the statement and movement, Black Lives Matter, but have you not heard the saying, power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely? Regardless of the job you think our law enforcement is doing, it should seem a fair and reasonable for everyone to be held to the same standards, held accountable, and for incompetent and potentially dangerous cops to be taken off the streets.

The good news is that there have been some very recent wins for the BLM movement across the nation; this blog is focused on the recent bills signed into law by Governor Newsom. In September 2020, Newsom signed both AB 1506 and AB 1196. AB 1506 is a bill that requires the state of California's Attorney General to investigate all fatal police shootings of unarmed civilians. This mandate is to help ensure these cases are thoroughly scrutinized, as when cops investigate their own colleagues, there is much more room for internal corruption and hiding of evidence. AB 1506 is backed by many public defenders and several offices of district attorneys.

The other bill, AB 1196, formally bans the use of neck restraints and chokeholds by law enforcement. Even though many states and also a multitude of specific CA agencies ban the use of chokeholds, this was not mandated statewide. It might surprise you that California, all together a very blue state, didn't have these seemingly extremely common sense laws. But the reality is that California has some of the greatest protections for law enforcement; and by protection, we specifically mean policies and funding that go toward preventing crooked cops from facing the consequences of their abuses and misconduct. This is more evidence as to how these issues, of corruption in law enforcement and of systemic racism, are not just a problem in red states and institutions.

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