Attorney General Becerra Calls for Broad Police Reforms and Proactive Efforts to Protect Lives
Commits to engaging with legislators, community members, law enforcement, and other stakeholders to reexamine public safety in California
Calls on law enforcement statewide to develop and implement policies, as appropriate, on use-of-force in line with today’s recommendations and community needs
SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra today announced a broad agenda for police reform aimed at improving use-of-force procedures, addressing issues around bias in policing, and increasing accountability and transparency. The proposals build on work by the California Department of Justice (DOJ) under Attorney General Becerra’s leadership, including several pattern-or-practice investigations and collaborative reform initiatives. Many of the proposed reforms stem from policing best-practices and recommendations made to the Sacramento Police Department by the Attorney General in January of 2019. In addition, the Attorney General urges law enforcement statewide to begin incorporating today’s recommendations on use-of-force, which largely align with the current nationwide #8CantWait campaign calling for immediate action on police reform. The proposals announced today are meant to support and contribute to ongoing national and statewide conversations around efforts to rebuild public trust and strengthen our criminal justice system. Importantly, these proposals are meant to encourage policies and practices that keep everyone safer and proactively protect against the unnecessary loss of life. Today’s announcement is only an initial step and it will take sustained work at every level to meet the challenge.
“Communities across the country have courageously spoken up to demand change. We cannot afford to ignore the realities faced by Black Americans and people of color in this nation,” said Attorney General Becerra. “It will take sustained work by all of us to answer the call. That’s why we’re urging local authorities across California and we in state government to actively work with community leaders to achieve lasting, forward-thinking, comprehensive policing reform. Although these proposals and others like them are just an initial step, they represent an important move forward in improving public trust, increasing transparency and accountability, and reducing excessive force. Now is the time for action by leaders at every level.”
Once again, our nation has been called to reckon with police brutality against people of color in this country and the systemic failures that cause and allow this misconduct to perpetuate. Recent events, including the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis Police Department officers and the law enforcement response to nationwide protests, highlight the urgency to act and heal the strain that has developed between local authorities and the communities they serve. In addition to building on current and emerging research, best practices, national standards, community expectations, and DOJ’s direct experience with police reform efforts, today's proposals also draw on lessons learned from annual reviews and analyses of stop data pursuant to the California Racial and Identity Profiling Act of 2015. In sharing these proposals, the Attorney General commits to engaging with legislators, community members, law enforcement, and other stakeholders to reexamine public safety in California and bring about much needed change. While much work lies ahead, the proposals identify several potential reforms that aim to reduce the use of force, increase impartiality and transparency, and in turn lead to more effective service to our communities.
First, the Attorney General urges law enforcement agencies statewide to develop and implement policies, as appropriate, to adopt the following use-of-force reforms:
- Intervention: All agencies should have a policy requiring officers to intervene to stop another officer from using excessive or unnecessary force;
- Ban Chokeholds and Carotid Restraints: All agencies should have a policy prohibiting the use of chokeholds, strangleholds, carotid restraints or other restraints, or body positioning that is designed to, or which may foreseeably result in, the cutting off of blood or oxygen to the person;
- De-Escalation: All agencies should require officers to de-escalate situations, when possible, before using force;
- Proportionality: All agencies should provide express guidance on proportionality to ensure officers understand the relationship that should exist between the force they use and the threat presented in a particular situation. The guidance may include adopting a spectrum, chart, or matrix, which can take the form of a graphical representation;
- Verbal Warnings: All agencies should require officers to give verbal warning, when feasible, before using force, whether lethal or less-lethal;
- Moving Vehicles: All agencies should prohibit officers from discharging a firearm at the operator or occupant of a moving vehicle unless the operator or occupant poses an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury to the public or an officer. All agencies should also prohibit officers from discharging a firearm from their moving vehicle, providing only for exceptions that require such actions to end an imminent threat to human life;
- Deadly Force As Last Resort: Consistent with the core concepts of de-escalation, necessity, and proportionality, all agencies should require that deadly force be used only as a last resort when reasonable alternatives have been exhausted or are not feasible to protect the safety of the public and police officers;
- Comprehensive Reporting: All agencies should create a general order dedicated to use of force reporting and investigations, requiring comprehensive reporting that includes both uses of force and threats of force; and
- Canine Use: All agencies should discontinue the use of “find and bite” and “bite and hold” techniques and instead implement “find and bark” or “circle and bark” techniques, where canines are trained and deployed to alert by barking, rather than biting a suspect as a first response, and then circling and barking until the handler takes control.
Significantly, in addition to calling for the inclusion of these use-of-force recommendations where needed in state law, the Attorney General highlights the following initial areas to either support or sponsor major criminal justice reform legislation:
- Decertify peace officers for serious misconduct, including provisions requiring law enforcement agencies to complete investigations even after a peace officer leaves a department;
- Expand reviews of law enforcement policies and practices, by enhancing DOJ’s capacity to review and proactively help law enforcement agencies across the state reform their policies and practices to align with community needs;
- Require policies and training on bias by proxy, which occurs when a person calls the police and makes false or ill-informed claims about individuals they are biased against — as well as provisions for auditing the effectiveness of such training;
- Place clear limits on crowd control techniques during protests or mass gatherings, including restrictions and guidance on the use of rubber bullets, tear gas, pepper spray, and batons;
- Forbid the use of pepper spray against children in juvenile detention, which can traumatize juveniles and undermine efforts to build trust; and
- Reexamine the role of police in addressing homelessness and mental health crises, recognizing that police officers are increasingly called upon as first responders to engage with people facing homelessness who may suffer from mental illness or other medical conditions, and that officers are not generally equipped to handle situations involving mental health crises or referrals for social services.
Attorney General Becerra is committed to improving public safety and the criminal justice system by advocating for reforms across the state and working with local authorities to implement new policies. Earlier this month, Attorney General Becerra launched a review of the Vallejo Police Department that will result in the development of a comprehensive policing plan in an effort to modernize and reform the police department's policies and practices, and increase public trust. The Attorney General also sent a letter — in support of a broader effort by state attorneys general — urging Congress to expand the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 to give state attorneys general clear statutory authority under federal law to investigate and resolve patterns or practices of unconstitutional policing. Earlier this year, Attorney General Becerra announced that DOJ would conduct an independent review of the Los Angeles Police Department’s records and policies regarding the use of CalGang, a system used by law enforcement to share gang-related intelligence. Last year, the Attorney General entered into an agreement with the Stockton Unified School District and its police department to address system-wide violations of the civil and constitutional rights of African American and Latino students and students with disabilities. Attorney General Becerra also secured a historic desegregation agreement involving the Sausalito Marin City School District. In 2018, as a result of the Trump Administration abandoning police reform efforts, the Attorney General stepped in at the request of the City of San Francisco and the San Francisco Police Department to provide independent oversight of the police department’s reform efforts. DOJ is also currently engaged in pattern-or-practice investigations of the Kern County Sheriff’s Office and the Bakersfield Police Department. Later this year, Attorney General Becerra will release the second phase of DOJ's report reviewing the policies and practices of the Sacramento Police Department. DOJ undertook this review in response to the 2018 shooting of Stephon Clark by police.