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Police unions ask Legislature to hold special session for reforms

Protesters in the Third Street Tunnel on Wednesday in downtown Los Angeles after the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis.
People hold their hands up as police form a line in the Third Street Tunnel on Wednesday in downtown Los Angeles during a protest after the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis.
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

With protesters back in the street this week after the police shooting of a Black man in Wisconsin, unions representing Los Angeles and San Francisco officers Thursday asked Gov. Gavin Newsom to call a special session of the Legislature on policing before passing reforms.

While the current legislative session began as protests over the death of George Floyd, a Black man killed by a Minnesota police officer in May, convulsed the state, the will for reforms has waned at the Capitol as those uprisings have tapered and public attention has shifted to wildfires and the coronavirus. Nearly two dozen bills introduced weeks ago have now been pared down to a handful of mostly moderate reforms.

A proposal to create a statewide system to strip bad officers of their badges is still in play and has caused the most consternation for law enforcement. Bills that would increase access to police records, curb the use of rubber bullets and tear gas at protests and require more oversight of investigations of deadly force by the state attorney general are also still being considered.

The governor has no plans to call a special session at this time, a Newsom spokesman said Thursday.

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The deadline for the Legislature to vote on those measures and hundreds of other bills is Monday night. The Capitol was further thrown into chaos Wednesday when a Republican senator from Santee, Brian Jones, was diagnosed with COVID-19, triggering a quarantine of nearly all the Republican members of the Senate.

The majority of law enforcement unions in the state have said they don’t oppose a system to track and ban problematic officers, but argue that in a session already shortened by the virus, the reforms have not had the public hearings and scrutiny of a normal session.

In particular, law enforcement unions contend that the decertification bill, Senate Bill 731, authored by state Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), goes too far by including a powerful citizens panel weighted toward community organizations and families of victims of police violence and that the proposed law may have conflicts with existing laws.

“We are committed to working in a collaborative manner to advance common-sense, fair and reasonable improvements to how we safely police in California,” Craig Lally, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, said of the request for a special session. “The current end-of-session rush of legislation that is not fully baked, rife with unintended consequences and in need of focused analysis, does not serve the best interests of the public or public safety professionals.”

In a hearing Wednesday on SB 731, Bradford acknowledged that some details of the legislation may require finessing, but disputed that it was not properly crafted or that it had been rushed. His bill, he said, is named after Kenneth Ross Jr., a Black man killed by Gardena police in 2018. The officer who fired the fatal shots had been involved in three previous shootings while working at another agency, Bradford said, pointing to the need for a system to track officers who switch agencies, especially those who may resign to avoid investigations.

Peter Bibring, director of police practices for the American Civil Liberties Union of California, which helped to craft the bill, said it had already been slow-walked through the Legislature in recent weeks, and that holding it longer was unnecessary.

“To delay further would just send a message to communities that they have to wait your turn as abusive cops threaten their communities,” Bibring said. “The policing bills before the Legislature ... are good, common-sense bills, and the Legislature shouldn’t delay justice and accountability another day.”

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Ross’ mother, Fouzia Almarou, said this week that the legislation was “a very important bill,” but she was concerned that decreasing attention on the issue would harm its chances of passage.

“I actually do feel that it’s fading,” she said. “The most important thing is to keep fighting and keep showing up.”


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