Starting in March, a handful of important California policing bills hot from the printer landed in the state’s Senate and Assembly committees for consideration and revision.
Compensation for victims (and families) after violent police encounters
One standout bill, SB 838, seeks to remove barriers to victim compensation claims for people seriously hurt or killed by law enforcement, or who “fail to cooperate” with police.
The California Victims Compensation Board would also be prohibited from denying a claim because the applicant was involved in a crime when they came into contact with law enforcement.
The bill by Senator Caroline Menjivar (D-San Fernando Valley) does establish some exceptions. CalVCB would be able to deny an applicant who was convicted of a violent crime or crime that caused the serious injury or death of another person at the same place and time as the violent police encounter.
The bill would also broaden eligibility for people who don’t report their victimization to the police.
“These policies also entrench racialized perceptions of survivors as “deserving” or “undeserving”, and disproportionately deny survivors of color compensation,” Comunities United for Restorative Youth Justice said in a statement in support of the bill. “Trauma is compounded for victims and loved ones who receive the message that their experience or loss is not worthy of support … Survivors of police violence should not have to overcome unjust barriers to compensation.”
SB 838 is a revival of a 2021-22 bill that died in the Assembly’s inactive file after passing out of the Senate. (We wrote extensively about the predecessor bill, SB 299, last year.)
Curtailing a policing tool with a racist history
A new bill by Assemblymember Dr. Corey Jackson would prohibit law enforcement agencies from using dogs for controlling crowds, and apprehending and arresting people.
“The use of police canines has been a mainstay in this country’s dehumanizing, cruel, and violent abuse of Black Americans and people of color for centuries,” AB 742 states. “First used by slave catchers, police canines are a violent carry-over from America’s dark past.”
Since then, police dogs “have been used in brutal attempts to quell the Civil Rights Movement, the LA Race Riots, and in response to Black Lives Matter protests. The use of police canines make people fear and further distrust the police, resulting in less safety and security for all, especially for communities of color.”
Law enforcement representatives argue that unleashing K9s is using “less-lethal” force, and often saves lives.
“Our canine units are only deployed after extensive verbal warnings and announcements are given to the suspect, bystanders, and surrounding residents that a canine unit will be deployed,” the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said in a statement opposing the bill. “Often, the mere presence (both audible and visible) of the canine is enough to dissuade criminal acts or compel a suspect in hiding to surrender without incident. In those instances, the canine’s intrinsic value as a de-escalation tool, and a means to obtain a peaceful resolution to a potentially life-threatening situation are most apparent.”
A 2013 study by the Police Assessment Resource Center (PARC) found that police dog bites sent people to the hospital 67.5% of the time. Other so-called less-lethal weapons, including batons and tasers, required hospital visits 22% of the time or less.
In 2021, nearly 12% of police-caused severe or fatal injuries were canine bites, according to use of force data collected by the California Department of Justice. Nearly two-thirds of the people killed or seriously injured by police dogs were identified as Black or Latino.
“[Police dog] attacks fail to serve a legitimate public safety interest,” the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) California Action said. “Many law enforcement agencies in California do not use police dogs for arrest, apprehension, or crowd control. Those agencies do not have higher rates of police shootings, nor do they have higher rates of police officer injuries or deaths in the line of duty.”
Traffic enforcement and pretextual stops
As a growing number of cities and counties across the state explore the feasibility of taking the job of low-level traffic enforcement from police and giving it to unarmed civilians (like those who work for the local transportation agency), these jurisdictions have run into a roadblock within existing state law.
Thus, SB 50 would clarify “that existing law does not preclude a county, city, municipality or any other local authority from enforcing a violation provided in the Vehicle Code through government employees who are not peace officers.”
The bill would also ban police stops for minor violations including driving with registration tags that have been expired for less than a year, driving a car with license plate lights out, driving with a broken tail light, driving with air fresheners or prayer beads hanging from the rearview mirror, sleeping in a vehicle, failing to signal a turn continuously for 100 feet.
Police have historically used these low-level violations to justify searching drivers and vehicles they find suspicious.
An October 2022 report from Catalyst California (formerly Advancement Project California) and the ACLU of Southern California noted that sheriff’s deputies in Los Angeles and Riverside “spend nearly 9 out of every 10 hours on stops initiated by officers rather than responding to calls for help from community members.” And among those officer-initiated stops, “approximately 80% are for traffic violations.”
And police stop, search, and use force against Black people at far greater rates than white people.
“Pretextual stops inflict devastating harm on Californians of color—including dehumanization, economic extraction through fees and fines, physical violence through uses of force, and devaluation of life,” Prosecutors Alliance of California said in a statement of support for SB 50.
A related bill, AB 93, would block police from conducting person or vehicle searches solely because an individual has given consent. They must also have justifiable cause.
AB 793, a bill introduced by Asm. Mia Bonta (D-Oakland) would ban online geofence warrants, also known as reverse-keyword or reverse-location warrants. Police can use these warrants to force companies to share identities and locations of people who looked up a certain keyword or website, or who traveled to a certain location while being tracked by their own electronic devices.
“These mass surveillance demands have been used to track the locations and identities of people protesting police violence and could easily be used by local law enforcement in states across the country to request the names and identities of people whose digital trail shows they have visited California abortion or gender-affirming care providers or even searched for revealing keywords online,” the bill states. “When it comes to protecting reproductive and LGBTQI rights and safety, our digital trail is highly revealing and must be safeguarded. With states across the country passing antiabortion and antitrans legislation, including laws that criminalize people for accessing care or helping people access care, it is vital that California continue to protect against digital tracking of vulnerable people seeking health care.
A bill to regulate law enforcement use of facial recognition, by Asm. Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), is facing serious opposition from the ACLU and advocates, while garnering the support of police unions across the state.
In 2019, Governor Gavin Newsom signed a Ting-authored bill setting limits on how and when police can use FRT. That bill sunset on January 1, 2023.
The new bill, AB 642, according to Asm. Ting, “aims to protect people’s privacy and due process rights, while also helping to keep communities safe with a valuable public safety tool.”
Several cities, including San Francisco, and Oakland have banned facial recognition.
In Los Angeles, where the technology is open for police use, the LAPD used facial recognition software nearly 30,000 times between 2009 and 2021, according to the LA Times. And police could not say how many times the use of FRT led to an arrest.
Ting’s new bill gives police far too much leeway to surveil people, according to opponents.
“The bill does not differentiate between FRT for investigation and FRT for surveillance,” according to Secure Justice. “The bill would allow forms of generalized surveillance if police had reasonable suspicion (picture a public protest against FRT that violates some ordinance). Generalized surveillance should be banned.”Moreover, the bill requires police to have reasonable suspicion that a crime is occuring, rather than requiring probable cause. Reasonable suspicion, Secure Justice notes, “is basically no standard at all.” Another major problem is that the bill doesn’t say that police can only use the technology to investigate serious crimes, so acts like loitering or blocking a street during a protest would qualify. “California would be greenlighting mass surveillance via FRT, were this bill to be enacted as written,” the organization said.
A bill by Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) would eliminate a legal loophole that allows police in California to buy otherwise illegal handguns for personal use or for resale.
“”There’s no good reason to allow an exception when we know these weapons are unsafe,” Skinner said in a statement introducing SB 377. “Law enforcement officers are not allowed to purchase other illegal products in the state. Guns should be no different.”
Connecting Tribal Police to the Law Enforcement Database
AB 44, a bill that would expand tribal police authority in California, allowing 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 People.”
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 percent 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.
The bill has dozens of registered supporters, including California tribes, law enforcement, and victims’ groups. There is no registered opposition.