Case isn’t closed on California’s police killings law

Your guide to California policy and politics
Lynn La BY Lynn La June 14, 2023
Presented by Dairy Cares, Climate-Smart Agricultural Partnership, Southern California Gas Company and Earthjustice

Case isn’t closed on California’s police killings law

From CalMatters politics intern Rya Jetha

In the aftermath of the police killings of Stephon Clark in Sacramento and George Floyd in Minneapolis, California passed a law requiring the Attorney General’s office to investigate every fatal use of force by police officers against unarmed people. The 2021 law was meant to take power away from local district attorneys, who were perceived as biased in favor of local police departments, and to give oversight to the state Department of Justice. 

But Attorney General Rob Bonta’s office has struggled to complete the investigations. CalMatters’ criminal justice reporter Nigel Duara has been tracking these cases and found that only three cases have been closed and 38 remain under investigation. 

As families grow frustrated with the lengthy legal process, CalMatters hosted a conversation moderated by Nigel, called “Fatal Shootings: California’s Bid to Police Its Police” to consider the challenges of investigating police shootings. 

All three panelists — Diana Becton, district attorney in Contra Costa County; Edward Obayashi, deputy sheriff and policy advisor for the Plumas County Sheriff’s Office; and Greg Totten, CEO of the California District Attorneys Association — agreed that there are many good reasons why the investigations are taking so long. Among them: Internal probes, forensics evidence and body-camera footage — all of which don’t exist in what Obayashi called “run-of-the-mill shootings.” 

In response to a question from CalMatters at a recent event, Bonta said that it took time to “work out the kinks” with the law, but that cases should start moving faster.

But responding to Bonta’s pledge to conclude investigations within one year, Obayashi said “it was hopeful.”

Totten added that “with such a major change in the law, there are naturally going to be fits and starts.”

A few other key points the panelists made during the hour-long event:

The law doesn’t cover most officer-involved shootings: Nationwide, about 1,000 police shootings take place every year, of which only 4% involve an unarmed civilian, according to Totten. 

Thus, “the vast majority of officer-involved shootings are being conducted by district attorneys…and other local prosecutors across the state,” he said.

Assemblymember Kevin McCarty, the Sacramento Democrat who authored the law, is proposing that the Department of Justice take over all officer-related homicide cases, regardless of whether the civilian was armed or not. 

Becton said she was not opposed, but the idea’s implementation would be “a tremendous, tremendous lift,” especially the money required to fund the personnel. 

Not responding to calls involving suicidal people: Obayashi said he supports this national trend. “We show up, and bad things happen,” he said, referencing “suicide by cop” where people purposely provoke an armed law enforcement response. 

Plumas County, where Obayashi works, is one of the many law enforcement agencies across California that has stopped responding to many suicidal calls. “Typically, by not showing up, it resolves itself,” he said. 

Police officers are people, not superheroes: When asked how police can justify using deadly force and be scared for their lives when a civilian is unarmed, Obayashi said that “these incidents happen so rapidly, to the point where there is no time to think.”

“We’re cops, but we are also human beings. We don’t wake up in the morning and take a magic pill to enhance our physical and mental abilities,” Obayashi said. 

Nigel added that “unarmed” does not necessarily mean that someone’s hands are empty, just that they are not holding a deadly weapon. This can be ambiguous, since guns that shoot soft pellets are not deadly weapons.

If you missed the panel, you can watch it here.

More public events: This was the second Sacramento Sessions panel, following one on homeownership. The next CalMatters event, in partnership with Fresnoland, will focus on housing affordability in Fresno. It is scheduled for 6-7 p.m. on Thursday, in person at the Fresno Art Museum and virtually. Sign up here. CalMatters is hosting more public events this year. Read more from our engagement team, check out our calendar and sign up today.


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Reparations calculator: CalMatters has created an interactive tool to estimate how much someone might be owed in reparations for slavery and racism. Look it up here, watch a TikTok about it, see it on Instagram and read the full story from Wendy Fry of CalMatters’ California Divide team.

If you have questions on reparations, send an email to Wendy at wendy@calmatters.org.


1 State workers who can’t make ends meet

Tammy Rodriguez, 52, an employee with the San Luis Obispo Department of Motor Vehicles. Rodriguez has 27 years of state service, including five years in San Luis Obispo. June 5, 2023. Photo by Julie Leopo for CalMatters
Tammy Rodriguez, 52, an employee with the state Department of Motor Vehicles in San Luis Obispo on June 5, 2023. Photo by Julie Leopo for CalMatters

Last week, state workers marched to the Governor’s Mansion to rally for better pay and benefits. The clock is ticking: Contracts for 14 of the state’s 21 bargaining units are set to expire by the first week of July. This will impact about 147,000 workers, including thousands of members from SEIU Local 1000, which represents nine bargaining units and is the biggest union for California state workers.

The union is seeking a 30% salary increase over the next three years, investments to increase staffing and better health coverage, reports Jeanne Kuang from CalMatters’ California Divide team, who attended the event.

Two decades ago, 5% of a typical Local 1000 member’s paycheck went to health care premiums and retirement health plans. But these days, the benefits take up an average of 15% of a member’s paycheck.

And the pay itself is lagging further. In exchange for a pension, better benefits and job security, state workers often accept lower salaries than they would in the private sector. But with inflation and rising costs since the pandemic, workers are reassessing this trade-off — especially when private businesses are responding to labor shortages with wage hikes.

A policy research specialist at the UC Berkeley Labor Center found that until the Great Recession, salaries in the public sector were comparable to or grew slightly faster than the private sector. But since 2010, wage growth in the public sector has consistently slowed.

It’s a reality that Rocklin resident Rita Krone, a 55-year-old program analyst for the state Department of Social Services, must face as she struggles with California’s high cost of living. Factoring in state benefits and pension, an analyst position similar to Krone in 2021 was paid 17% less compared to an equivalent job in the private sector. But on wages alone, the differential grows to 30%.

At the rally last week, Krone told Jeanne that her rent costs $2,200 a month. Because of her husband’s disability, she must work at her state job from Mondays through Fridays, and then deliver groceries for DoorDash on Friday evenings and weekends.

“We’re down to our last dimes. So I work seven days a week,” Krone said.

2 AI goes to college

Illustration generated via artificial intelligence program Midjourney, and finalized with Adobe Photoshop (Beta)
An illustration generated by the artificial intelligence program Midjourney and finalized with Adobe Photoshop (Beta)

The different applications of artificial intelligence-generated content are proliferating at lightning speed — penning news articles, illustrating children’s books, winning photography contests and bringing rappers back from the dead or recording the Beatles’ “final” record

But what about on college campuses? While some academics are wary about AI in the classroom, others embrace it, writes Rocky Walker of CalMatters’ College Journalism Network

It’s true that AI can be used to cheat on tests and complete essays, and the technology to accurately catch all offenders does not exist yet. Despite this, some professors across California want to encourage their students to become familiar with AI, leverage its technology and use it as a starting point for ideas — all while keeping in mind AI’s limitations. 

A few professors Rocky spoke to:

  • Frako Loden, an adjunct professor at Diablo Valley College: Had students in her American cinema class submit a discussion question about the 1950s movie “A Place in the Sun” to ChatGPT as a prompt and grade its answer.
  • David Grusky, a sociology professor at Stanford University: Allowed the use of AI-generated text in assignments as long as students cited the text similar to citing a conversation with a human. “You still have to evaluate what someone says and whether or not it’s sensible,” Grusky said.
  • Elizabeth Blakey, an associate professor at Cal State Northridge: Permitted master’s students in her mass communications class to use ChatGPT to help draft research proposals.

Currently, California’s public higher education systems do not have a formal policy on the use of AI. 

In 2020, the University of California established a working group that has recommended the technology’s use in counseling, student retention, admissions and test proctoring. California State University’s Academic Senate, which represents faculty, passed a resolution to form an AI working group by the end of August, while the California Community Colleges are expected to develop a framework of AI policies by spring 2024. 

“If we ignore it or try to ban it, it is probably to everyone’s detriment,” Cal State Academic Senate Chairperson Beth Steffel said.

Potential bias is one of the concerns among professors. And when CalMatters photo editor Miguel Gutierrez, Jr. was working on AI-generated images for the story, he noticed a pattern: Asked to produce images of “a professor using AI in the classroom,” the image-generator Midjourney returned only depictions of white, male professors.

“Only when prompted to give me a person of color, a Black professor, or a woman did it give me that,” Gutierrez said. “This is something I’ve seen with other image generation on Midjourney. People will also make prompts like ‘beautiful woman in snow’ and the beautiful woman is always a white woman.”


CalMatters Commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: The state budget that legislators will pass this week isn’t a real plan, but a sham so they can collect their paychecks.

Gov. Newsom must expand the safety net for California’s farmworkers, writes Belinda Hernandez-Arriaga, founder and executive director of Ayudando Latinos A Soñar, a nonprofit serving the farmworker community in Half Moon Bay.


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Why Hayward Fault is the epicenter of debate over housing vs. quake risk // The Mercury News

El Dorado secession plan would split county from California // The Sacramento Bee

Small towns in other states lure CA remote workers with cash, perks // Los Angeles Times

Three Southern California natural gas power plants will have life extended // Politico

Why did California voters reject affirmative action with Prop. 16? // The New York Times 

California childcare workers lobby for higher wages to combat costs // Los Angeles Times

Hospitals and counties balk at bill to pay healthcare workers $25 per hour // CapRadio

California security guards will soon have to get use-of-force training // KQED

EMILY’s List backs Joanna Weiss over Sen. Dave Min for Katie Porter seat // Roll Call

GOP official Harmeet Dhillon appears to have moved $1.3M from nonprofit to law firm // The Guardian

SF would expand firearms ban in public places under ordinance // San Francisco Chronicle

Sacramento skate park named for Tyre Nichols, killed by police in Memphis // AP News

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