Police Accountability (SIGNED)

WHAT THE BILLS WOULD DO

Sacramento police thought Stephon Clark was holding a gun when they killed him in March in his grandmother’s backyard. But he was actually holding a cell phone, and the death of another unarmed black man at the hands of police triggered weeks of protests in the Capitol as well as proposals for new laws. Two police accountability bills collapsed under opposition from law enforcement groups: One would have made a tougher standard for police to use deadly force, and another that would have the Attorney General investigate police shootings. Two other bills advanced that would create more transparency for police:

  • Assembly Bill 748 would require police departments to release body camera footage of most shootings within 45 days.
  • Senate Bill 1421 would make investigation records public in police shootings and confirmed cases of sexual assault or lying by police.

WHO SUPPORTS THEM

The American Civil Liberties Union—as well as publishers, broadcasters and numerous criminal justice reform groups—argue that making videos and misconduct records public will improve safety and foster trust between communities and police.

WHO OPPOSES THEM

Many law enforcement groups lobbied against the bills, saying they violate officers’ privacy and could discourage them from doing their jobs. But the California Police Chiefs Association negotiated on SB 1421 and eventually supported it.

WHY IT MATTERS

California goes further than many states in terms of protecting police from public scrutiny. In most states, the public has at least some access to records on police misconduct, but California law has shielded such information since 1978. These bills would begin to shine some light on law enforcement practices and help Californians know if the officers who patrol their streets have a history of misconduct.

GOVERNOR’S DECISION

Both bills signed by Governor Brown on September 30, 2018.

—Laurel Rosenhall