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California to ban chokeholds, independently review police shootings under newly signed laws

POLITICO logo POLITICO 10/1/2020 By Alexander Nieves
a group of people standing in front of a building: Assemblymember Mike Gipson bows his head as he and other members of the California Legislature kneel to honor George Floyd at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., on June 9, 2020. © AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli Assemblymember Mike Gipson bows his head as he and other members of the California Legislature kneel to honor George Floyd at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., on June 9, 2020.

OAKLAND — Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday signed policing bills that ban chokeholds, allow the state Department of Justice to investigate police shootings and give counties more oversight of sheriff's departments.

Impact: The signings represent a win for police reform advocates and Democrats who introduced a wave of bills after the May police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Still, the moment is bittersweet for these groups after some of the most aggressive proposals — including bills to establish a police decertification process and mandate officers intercede to stop excessive force — stalled in the Legislature.

The new laws: Assembly Bill 1506 by Assemblymember Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento) is the biggest breakthrough for legislative advocates for changing police practices. They tried and failed in past years to overhaul the investigatory process for police shootings and other uses of lethal force. The bill will establish an investigative unit within the Department of Justice to handle investigations of officer-involved shootings and lethal force when requested by local law enforcement agencies or district attorneys.

"This has been an effort before George Floyd, but the murder of George Floyd before our eyes put these issues in the spotlight, and it allowed us to get bipartisan support," McCarty said, explaining it took three and a half years to get the bill enacted.

AB 1196 by Assemblymember Mike Gipson (D-Carson) prohibits officers from using carotid restraints or chokeholds, techniques that have come under increased scrutiny in the last few months. The change comes after local law enforcement agencies around the state and country quickly banned the technique in the days following Floyd’s death as a result of an officer kneeling on his neck.

Newsom signed another measure authored by McCarty, AB 1185, that will give county officials more oversight of sheriff’s departments and grant them more authority to collect records from a department in the course of an investigation. The bill specifically authorizes a county to establish a sheriff oversight board and an office of the inspector general that can issue subpoenas.

Later Wednesday, Newsom's office announced he signed AB 846, by Assemblymembers Autumn Burke (D-Marina del Rey) and Jacqui Irwin (D-Thousand Oaks), which requires law enforcement agencies to evaluate prospective officers for any potential biases related to race, religion, gender or other attributes protected from discrimination.

What’s next: Legislative leaders have committed to making police reform a priority in 2021 after a half-dozen bills died at the end of a chaotic session.

The most contentious is Senate Bill 731, by Sen. Steve Bradford (D-Gardena), which would have established a system for decertifying peace officers who have committed serious offenses or abuses on the job. California is one of only five states that don’t have a process for pulling an officer’s badge if they’ve committed a crime, which allows problem officers to bounce between departments.

Another measure that will likely be reintroduced next session include an effort by Assemblymember Chris Holden (D-Pasadena) that would mandate specific steps an officer has to take when witnessing another officer using excessive force. Other proposals likely to resurface include a ban on using rubber bullets, tear gas and pepper spray during protests and a requirement that all use-of-force incidents are subject to public disclosure.

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