California Attorney General Launches Top-Down Policing Reforms

California Attorney General Kamala Harris announced a package of law enforcement reform efforts Friday as local police agencies struggle to engender and maintain the trust of communities they patrol.

Harris made the announcement at the conclusion of a 90-day review concerning state-level training, bias and use of force (read below).

But new initiatives appear to go much farther than tweaking training for state Department of Justice special agents.

“As a career prosecutor,” Harris said, “I know firsthand that the relationship of trust between law enforcement and the community is critical not only to public safety, but also officer safety. It’s critical to having witnesses come forward. It’s critical to having victims come forward. It’s critical to having jurors sit as they deliberate on criminal charges to have the confidence in believing and knowing that justice occurs in our streets, and justice should therefore occur in our courtrooms.”

The DOJ created a first-ever policy that “expressly prohibits bias on the basis of an individual’s race, ethnicity, national origin, gender, sexual orientation/identity, religion, socioeconomic status and/or age,” according to an executive summary of the review. The department did not provide a copy of the policy referenced, and responded to KQED’s inquiry seeking the policy with a copy of the executive summary.

State special agents will also be testing a body camera program, Harris said, and the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training is crafting a course on implicit — or subconscious — bias and procedural justice.

That could augment local efforts already underway. San Francisco Police Department leadership, for example, has been participating in implicit bias trainings through the city’s Human Rights Commission since racist and anti-gay text messages sent by current and former SFPD officers came to light in March.

Harris announced the formation of a “21st Century Policing Working Group,” made up of law enforcement leaders from around the state. She said the group is focused on procedural justice, effective training and community policing.

She pointed to Oakland’s Ceasefire Strategy as an example of community policing that works. Oakland Assistant Police Chief Paul Figueroa said Oakland has some 55 gangs, six to eight of which are active at any given time. He said the department hosts quarterly meetings with the active groups.

“Even in the midst of gang feuds and gang struggles and the different things that are going on and the dynamics between the gangs, you can still present meaningful choices for them,” he said. “You can help them make different choices in their life in a meaningful way.”

Listen to Figueroa’s full description of Oakland’s Ceasefire program below:

The DOJ’s Division of Law Enforcement is also looking to take an expanded role in officer-involved shooting investigations, according to the 90-day review executive summary, which announced a new two-step review process for critical incidents involving state agents.

“DLE will also dedicate investigative assistance to law enforcement agencies in circumstances where they demonstrate an inability to investigate a critical incident due to lack of resources, training, or conflicts of interests,” the summary says.

The working group expects to report on its progress at the end of this year.

Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said removing built-in bias among officers is an ongoing challenge.

“This is not something you get inoculated against once in your life and that’s it,” he said. “This takes constant retraining, constant discussion.”


This post contains reporting from the Associated Press

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