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Little Consensus On Policing Bills At California Capitol

Gerald Herbert / AP

Members of Together Baton Rouge bow their heads in prayer at the start of a news conference, regarding the recent shooting of Alton Sterling, in Baton Rouge, La., Thursday, July 7, 2016.

Gerald Herbert / AP

On all the hot-button policing issues this year, the status quo has ruled the California Legislature. And as a grieving and divided nation debates responses to last week’s shootings in Louisiana, Minnesota and Texas, it’s not likely that any new policing bills could become law this year.

Measures that would have made law enforcement officers’ personnel records public and created procedures for releasing body camera footage died weeks ago.

Then, there was Democratic Asm. Jim Cooper’s bill, requiring agencies to develop body camera policies. It passed the Assembly but was rejected last month by the Senate Public Safety Committee.

“It was sad and unfortunate,“ Cooper says. “Here we spent two years, and we have no body camera bill, and politics got in the way. And ultimately, who’s that hurt? It hurts the community.”

Cooper’s measure had backing from many rank-and-file law enforcement groups. But it was opposed by the ACLU – and the California Police Chiefs and State Sheriffs’ associations.

“Basically the bill was saying, in almost every single case, the officer always got to view the body cam footage before writing a report,“ says Cory Salzillo with the sheriffs’ organization. “And the sheriffs felt that this was a decision better left to the discretion of management.”

To the ACLU’s Peter Bibring, even that would be unacceptable. He says officers should not be able to “straighten out their story” by reviewing footage ahead of time. And he says law enforcement groups have long held sway over lawmakers, making the status quo a big problem.

“This is an issue California should be leading on,“ Bibring says. “And at the current moment, the Legislature’s not doing anything to help ensure that police are held accountable for misconduct or serious use of force.”

Which all goes to show how hard it may be to bridge the legislative divide – even after Baton Rouge, Falcon Heights and Dallas.

Ben Adler

Capitol Bureau Chief

Capitol Bureau Chief Ben Adler first became a public radio listener in the car on his way to preschool – though not necessarily by choice. Now, he leads Capital Public Radio’s state Capitol coverage, which airs on NPR stations across California.  Read Full Bio