In October, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed — and vetoed — the last of hundreds of bills that state legislators sent to his desk for final approval.
Because so many of these bills were justice or foster care-related, WitnessLA has broken the list up into multiple stories focused on individual categories. Last week, we published a roundup of bills focused on conditions of incarceration in California. Other topics we’ll soon dig into include youth justice, crime and courts, and child welfare. In this week’s story, we wanted to update readers on the fate of this year’s bills that addressed policing issues.
Tribal police gain access to statewide police database
The first bill, AB 44, expands the authority of tribal law enforcement in California. The new law will allow tribal police agencies and courts to apply to the California Department of Justice for access to the California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System (CLETS), an information-sharing system that allows police to check DMV records, criminal records, gun registration information, missing persons files, a stolen vehicle system and dozens of other types of records.
Without that access tribal officers are at a serious disadvantage when trying to solve cases, particularly cases involving missing and murdered Indigenous women and children.
California is home to 12 percent of the nation’s total indigenous population — more than any other state, according to the 2010 census. CA is also the state with the sixth-highest number of missing and murdered Native women and girls.
According to a study funded by the National Institute of Justice, 84% of Native women have experienced violence.
Tribal law enforcement and courts must have access to CLETS “in order to enter, verify, and update missing person’s information,” according to the Northern California Tribal Chairperson’s Association (NCTCA).
“Currently only a couple of tribal law enforcement departments have access to CLETS as a result of their Deputation Agreement with their county sheriff or the Bureau of Indian Affairs. No California tribal court has access to CLETS.”
Without that access, tribal justice leaders can’t enter protective orders, including domestic violence protective orders, into the system, “limiting the ability of county and state law enforcement to protect tribal people,” the NCTCA added.
A new Ebony Alert system
Another bill, SB 673, by Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), aims to address racial disparities in the efforts police make to search for missing young people.
At the national level, approximately 38% of children reported missing are Black, according to the Black and Missing Foundation. Yet, just 14% of the total U.S. population is Black.
To make matters worse, police are more likely to classify Black children as “runaways” than “missing” when compared to their white peers. This means that missing Black kids are less likely to receive media attention or to be placed on Amber Alert signs.
Black women and girls also make up 40 percent of sex trafficking victims.
California already has mechanisms for law enforcement to issue special alerts for missing seniors (Silver Alerts) and Indigenous people (Feather Alerts).
The new Ebony Alert law will ensure that missing young Black people receive the “vital resources and attention” that any other youth missing under suspicious circumstances would receive.
Specifically, the new law will “authorize a law enforcement agency to request the Department of the California Highway Patrol to activate an “Ebony Alert,” with respect to Black youth, including young women and girls, who are reported missing under unexplained or suspicious circumstances, at risk, developmentally disabled, or cognitively impaired, or who have been abducted.”
If the CHP agrees that issuing an Ebony Alert would be an effective investigation tool, the agency would then be able to assist local law enforcement partners by “disseminating specified alert messages and signs” about the missing person.
Hate crime enforcement
In response to an increase in hate crimes against Asian people in California, AB 449, by Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), will require law enforcement agencies to adopt hate crime policies and a schedule for hate crime trainings by July 1, 2024. Agencies will then need to submit those policies and schedules to the California Department of Justice for review.
The new law also requires the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training to consult with experts to update its guidelines for hate crime training for law enforcement officers.
Public access to police records
Governor Newsom blocked AB 469, a bill that would have created a California Public Records Act Ombudsperson.
The California Public Records Act (CPRA) makes state and local law enforcement documents available to the public by request, with some exemptions.
Yet law enforcement agencies can reject CPRA requests “citing irrelevant and inappropriate exemptions, and the [CPRA] does not include any provisions regarding a requestor’s right to appeal a denied request,” according to bill author Asm. Vince Fong (R-Bakersfield).
“This loophole has created an avenue for state agencies to deny requests without repercussion, knowing that the public has no recourse other than to file a costly lawsuit against the agency.”
The bill received support from a number of news associations, including The California News Publishers Association, California Broadcasters Association, National Press Photographers Association, Radio Television Digital News Directors Association, and Society of Professional Journalists LA.
“Without a mechanism in place for decision review, many community newspapers, small non-profit groups, and individual citizens without the financial means to hire an attorney to represent them in a lawsuit are left without a viable remedy,” the associations wrote.
“Having the option to utilize a less formal review process like the one proposed by AB 469 would give requesters the ability to have their rights adjudicated without necessarily having to retain legal counsel.”
At the local level, WLA and other journalists and organizations have struggled to obtain public records from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Often, WLA does not receive any response to an official records request, let alone a written denial.
In his veto message, Gov. Newsom cited significant financial costs associated with opening a new state position and office as one of the main reasons for his rejection of the bill.
In addition, Newsom argued that state law enforcement agencies “diligently comply with the Public Records Act, and relief is currently available through the courts for those who feel an agency’s decision was incorrect.”
AB 469, he said, “would create an unnecessary layer of review by an official who would interpret the law in a manner that may or may not be consistent with case law.”
Addressing Immigration Enforcement
The governor signed a bill confirming that probation officers and other California law enforcement are the only entities allowed to conduct searches of people on probation under the terms of their supervision. Sen. Susan Rubio (D-Baldwin Park) introduced the bill, SB 852, in response to reports of federal immigration agents posing as probation officers to gain entry into the homes of immigrants.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents’ “use of a ‘probation ruse’ undermines the trust and faith in California’s local law enforcement,” according to the bill. “Therefore, California must take necessary actions to eliminate any ambiguity under existing law and make it clear that ICE employees are not peace officers and cannot conduct probation ‘searches and seizures.’”
Newsom did, however, veto a related bill, AB 1306, the HOME Act, which would have restricted the ways in which California prisons can work with immigration officials.
Current law allows the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to notify ICE of an immigrant’s release date, often holding an individual past when they would otherwise be released, in order that ICE can come pick them up.
AB 1306, which had no formal opposition from law enforcement or any other entity, would have restricted the CDCR from alerting ICE to the scheduled release of people selected to benefit from resentencing or compassionate release (for medical or age-related reasons).
Newsom vetoed the bill, saying that he believed current law already “strikes the right balance on limiting interaction to support community trust and cooperation between law enforcement and local communities.”
Assemblywoman Wendy Carrillo (D – Los Angeles), the bill’s author, said she was disappointed in the governor’s decision.
“It was never the intention of the legislature to exclude immigrants from restorative justice reform policies,” Carrillo wrote. “AB 1306 was a very narrow fix in law, three years in the making, to ensure the legislature’s intention of allowing uniquely affected Californians to return to their communities and families and rebuild their lives after serving their time.”
Instead, Carrillo said, these individuals “will continue facing indefinite incarceration in immigration detention, which is a sentence that was never handed down by a criminal court or a judge.”
A number of other policing bills we tracked this year did not make it to Governor Newsom’s desk, including the bill to restrict the use of police dogs, and a bill to open a path for people physically harmed by law enforcement to access victims’ compensation.