The long wait for California families on police shootings

Your guide to California policy and politics
Lynn La BY Lynn La May 17, 2023
Presented by New California Coalition and California Water Service

The long wait for California families on police shootings

Spurred by public outcry for more police accountability following the 2020 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the Legislature ordered the California Department of Justice to investigate police killings of unarmed civilians. At the time, legislators who introduced the bill — including then-Assemblymember and current Attorney General Rob Bonta — pledged that investigations would be closed within a year. 

But as CalMatters’ criminal justice reporter Nigel Duara has uncovered, some police shooting reviews take much longer, with the oldest unresolved case stretching back more than 21 months

Until the department’s reviews conclude, district attorneys can’t decide whether to seek criminal charges against officers. These months-long delays give little confidence to family members who are held in an agonizing limbo as their questions go unanswered — especially when they know that those looking into these cases are law enforcement officers themselves.

  • Jonathan Hernandez, a Santa Ana city council member whose cousin was shot and killed by police officers in 2021: “You cannot trust the people who just murdered your loved one to properly investigate each other.”

There are various possible reasons why investigations take so long. One is money: The Justice Department asked for $26 million, but the Legislature granted only $13 million. It’s one reason why Bonta’s predecessor, Xavier Becerra, initially opposed the bill.

Another reason is procedural. After one San Bernardino County Sheriff’s deputy shot and killed a man in June, a series of investigations ensued, involving the sheriff’s department, the district attorney’s office and the Justice Department. And Brian Marvel, president of the Peace Officers Research Association of California, told Nigel that agents are still learning to conduct high-level investigations.

  • Marvel: “There is a skill associated with investigating, not only officer-involved shootings, but just shootings in general, that the Attorney General’s office doesn’t have.”

Despite these setbacks, Democratic Assemblymember Kevin McCarty of Sacramento, who also authored the bill, told CalMatters that he still has “confidence in the program” and that “it’s better to be right than to be fast.” Bonta’s office acknowledged investigations take longer than expected because of how thorough and comprehensive they are.

CalMatters is tracking all the police killing investigations in the attorney general’s office, 25 and counting. Read the summaries of each case.


Focus on homeownership: CalMatters is hosting a panel discussion 8:30-9:30 a.m. Tuesday, May 23. In “Generation Locked Out: Is Homeownership in California Only for the Rich?” reporter Alejandro Lazo will moderate a panel of experts and advocates who will discuss the affordability crisis and what it means for first-time homebuyers. Register here to attend in person at our Sacramento office, or virtually.

CalMatters is hosting more public events this year. Read more from our engagement team, check out our calendar and sign up today.


1 The prescription to cut insulin prices?

Several efforts are underway to cut insulin costs in California. Photo by George Frey, REUTERS
Several efforts are underway to cut insulin costs in California. Photo by George Frey, Reuters

Forget gas, eggs or meat — one product whose price has truly skyrocketed is insulin. This life-saving medication, relied on by about 3 million diabetic Californians, has shot up in price by more than 600% in the past 20 years. It’s a rate higher than any other health care service and regularly outpaces the rate of inflation, according to CalMatters’ health reporter Kristen Hwang.

But ask any of those in the pharmaceutical industry who’s to blame for these rising costs and you’ll get a lot of finger pointing. Manufacturers who give discounts to health insurers blame them for not passing the savings on to patients. In turn, insurers blame manufacturers for setting high prices from the start. And in the end, it’s the patient who pays — sometimes spending more than $400 per vial.

To tackle the cost of insulin, California officials are using a three-pronged approach:

If any of these strategies succeed in driving down insulin prices, other drugs could follow. But results so far have varied: Some proposals pushed by lawmakers this year have failed several times. Bonta’s lawsuit is still ongoing, but could result in making pharmaceutical pricing tactics more transparent nationwide.

Last year, the Biden administration imposed an out-of-pocket price cap to penalize drug makers  who raised prices faster than the rate of inflation. (Previously, the average price of insulin increased about 11% a year). In response, the three largest insulin manufacturers dropped prices to $35 earlier this year, but only one has committed to keeping prices that low.

2 Keeping cannabis away from kids

Cannabis products for sale Bloom Room San Francisco Union Square in San Francisco on Jan. 11 2022. Photo by Martin do Nascimento/CalMatters
Cannabis products for sale at the Bloom Room store in San Francisco on Jan. 11, 2022. Photo by Martin do Nascimento, CalMatters

One danger since California voters legalized recreational marijuana use in 2016 is increased access for children.  

On Tuesday, Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin, a Democrat from Thousand Oaks, promoted her bill that would prohibit licensed cannabis companies from advertising their products in ways that could attract children, including packaging that shows cartoons or animals, or looks similar to packaging for candy and snacks.

Irwin was joined in the virtual press conference by pediatricians and parent advocates who cited weak regulation and a lack of enforcement that have resulted in the rise of cannabis poisoning among young people. Between 2016 and 2020, emergency department visits in California related to cannabis use increased by 75%. And in 2021 alone, California had 793 cannabis exposure calls to poison control centers for children five or younger — an increase of 140% since in 2018.

The bill passed through the Assembly business committee, but Irwin will have to wait to see if the appropriations committee advances it to a floor vote.

  • Irwin: “It is, believe it or not, a difficult bill to get through the Legislature…. We do not have a large body of research yet, and the assumption is that cannabis use is safe. And I think that as we get more and more data in, we’re seeing otherwise.”

Cannabis manufacturers who stand to lose some money say that supporters of the bill have failed to connect those emergency visits with legal cannabis products, and that this legislation will end up empowering unlicensed marijuana companies to market their illegal products to children.

This issue has received less attention than some significant problems with the legal market overall, as CalMatters’ Alexei Koseff has written about extensively.

Taxes on legal cannabis and local restrictions on dispensaries have kept the illicit market alive and well. And plummeting prices have devastated the Emerald Triangle — long the center of cannabis cultivation in California.


CalMatters Commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: A 20-year battle over a law letting workers file class-actions against employers is entering a new phase with a state Supreme Court case and a pending 2024 ballot measure.


Other things worth your time

Some stories may require a subscription to read

AG Bonta beats bushes on 2026 run for CA governor // The San Francisco Standard

In Black-led Compton, a Latino majority fights for political power // The Washington Post

Is this the year California OKs speed cameras? // Los Angeles Times

Newsom announces $30M effort to improve salmon habitat in Northern CA // Politico

Assembly passes bill to ban five toxic chemicals from food products // The Sacramento Bee 

9th Circuit reinstates lawsuit challenging SF vaccine mandate // San Francisco Chronicle

4-day workweeks are the norm for these California companies // Los Angeles Times

LA judge issues injunction against cash bail before arraignment // LAist

Hollywood investigating restaurants over service fees for workers // Los Angeles Times

LA County supervisors add 16 jail mental health treatment beds // LAist

New ads slam SF’s response to fentanyl epidemic // San Francisco Chronicle

When the cops won’t come — ‘Does someone have to die?’ // Voice of San Diego

Can reparations bring Black residents back to San Francisco? // The New York Times

CA sees less risk of summer blackouts with power surplus // Bloomberg

Ron DeSantis wades into Bay Area college protests controversy // SFGATE

Hepatitis A cases rising among homeless people; county ramps up prevention efforts // The San Diego Union-Tribune

Ex-Silicon Valley Bank CEO blames the Fed, media for collapse // San Francisco Chronicle

See you tomorrow


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