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Sacramento Report: Police Shooting Bill Moves Forward, With Some Changes

Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear pushes a measure to ease granny flat permits, Democratic leaders condemn family separations at the border and more in our weekly roundup of news from Sacramento.

Police officers line up near protesters in El Cajon following the police shooting death of Alfred Olongo. / Photo by Brooke Binkowski

Assemblywoman Shirley Weber’s bill to change the standards for when police can use deadly force got its first hearing in the state Senate this week, via that chamber’s Public Safety Committee.

There, Weber made the case that the laws are long overdue for an update:

“California’s existing law governing when a homicide by officer is ‘justified’ was written in 1872. This code, being the oldest unamended use of force statute in the country, not only fails to include best practices, but authorized deadly force that violates the U.S. constitution. This results in police killing more people in California than in any other state. In 2017, officers shot and killed 162 people in California, only half of whom were armed with guns, and killed more than 20 others using other types of force.”

Experts and supporters testifying in favor of the bill seized on that point.

“The current law … is painfully outdated,” said Seth Stoughton, a University of South Carolina law professor and former police officer. “It retains an approach to deadly force that has been rejected by the vast majority of the states and the Supreme Court.”

Since it was introduced, Weber has toned the bill down through amendments. She removed, for instance, a provision that would have made it less likely for a shooting to be considered justified if an officer’s “gross negligence” had contributed to the circumstances leading up to it. She also changed language suggesting prosecutors should consider “the totality of the circumstances.” The new standard is “all facts reasonably known to the officer at the time.”

Representatives of various law enforcement groups across the state remain opposed to the bill.

“As amended, the bill continues to create a ‘necessary’ requirement that is much higher than reasonable,” said Randy Perry, a lobbyist for Randy Perry the California Association of Highway Patrolmen, San Francisco Police Officers Association and Sheriff’s Employee Benevolent Association of San Bernardino. “Also, the requirement of ‘no reasonable alternative’ is unacceptable. The criminal and liability exposure of this aspect of this part of the bill cannot be overstated. However, more importantly, the danger to officers and the public are unconscionable by this bill.”

San Diego District Attorney Summer Stephan has not yet taken a position on the bill, said a spokesman.

“Current law places the responsibility to review officer-involved shootings with the DA’s Office,” Steve Walker, Stephan’s communications director, wrote in an email. “However, the office has invited independent review by the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, which is now happening regularly and welcomes any additional or independent review by the state’s attorney general’s office. In addition, we welcome community input on how to enhance public trust in this critical area.”

In a letter sent to Weber in advance of the hearing, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund pledged its support. Between 2005 and 2016, “Blacks were shot and killed by police at almost five times the rate of whites and three times the rate of Latinos,” the letter noted.

Republican Steven Bailey, who is running for state attorney general, made the hearing into a campaign issue.

“Without consulting law enforcement, Sacramento politicians who have never worn a badge colluded with special interests to write a bill that must be soundly defeated in the state Legislature,” he said in a press release.

A report published days after the hearing in the British medical journal The Lancet found that “when police officers in the United States kill unarmed black people, it damages the mental health of black Americans living in those states,” according to the New York Times. The researchers cited findings of trauma following police shootings in Oakland and Sacramento.

Bates and Encinitas Push Granny Flat Measure

A bill by Republican Sen. Patricia Bates that would make it easier for owners of existing granny flats to secure permits for the units moved forward this week.

The bill is sponsored by the city of Encinitas, and Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear appeared before the Assembly Housing and Community Development Committee on Wednesday to testify on its behalf.

“I’ve heard from residents that their very old accessory units, some of [which] are more than 30 years old, predating our city’s incorporation, are nearly impossible to permit under our current codes,” Blakespear said. “Their only option would be removal of these units, which is not ideal for them as the landowner, or for the city and the state in a housing crisis. This bill will lead to more permitted homes, and therefore an increase in safe homes.”

Encinitas, which has struggled mightily to accept and build new housing to such a degree that it’s been sued by multiple parties for violating state law, has embraced granny flats as a solution to its housing woes.

Over the last year, the city has eased regulations to encourage building and permitting granny flats.

A state law passed last year also loosened the rules on granny flats, in hopes that building and permitting more of them will help alleviate the state’s housing crisis.

Dems Condemn ‘Nazi-Like’ Immigration Policies at the Border

Democratic leaders and members of the California Latino Legislative Caucus on Thursday denounced what they said are President Donald Trump’s inhumane immigration policies.

San Diego Sen. Ben Hueso, who chairs the caucus and whose district includes the U.S.-Mexico border, described Trump’s agenda as “Nazi-like.”

“(We’re) troubled, but … not surprised, by the Trump administration’s vicious, inhumane and cynical efforts to leverage the lives of immigrant children … to push his very un-American and Nazi-like agenda,” he said.

Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins said it was important for California’s representatives to stand up for immigrant rights. Half the kids in California have at least one immigrant parent, she said. “This is about each and every one of us.”

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, whose district also includes the border, said the federal government is “playing games” with Latino people and is confused by its own policies, changing direction on nearly an hour-by-hour basis. “Trump, since the day he was elected, has done nothing but use our community as leverage in some broader discussion,” she said.

Assemblyman Todd Gloria asked people not to get distracted by Trump’s executive order temporarily halting the practice of separating families caught crossing the border illegally, which he described as “deceptive.” A protest against Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy will be held downtown Saturday and he asked people to join him in the streets “to make sure that when the history of this time is written, it will be clear that California stood in opposition to this heinous act being perpetrated against children.”

  • California is joining with several other states to sue the Trump administration over its policy of separating families at the border. (Associated Press)

Golden State News

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  • Six pieces of California trivia — especially cool is the explanation behind a palm tree and cedar tree living together on the side of a freeway. (California Sun)
  • John Cox has invoked California’s homelessness problem many times as he campaigns for governor. But when pressed by the Sacramento Bee, he declined to explain a single idea about how to fix it or respond to questions about the issue.
  • Three University of California campuses (UC San Diego is not among them) did not consistently discipline faculty members accused of sexual misconduct, a state audit found. (Los Angeles Times)
  • A bill that would have given California the strongest net neutrality rules in the country was gutted through amendments this week. (CNET)
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