California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has announcedaimed at "improving use of force procedures," amid nationwide scrutiny of bias in policing. He is calling on police departments around the state to ban the practice of chokeholds and to decertify police officers for serious misconduct.
At a news conference Monday, Becerra said the proposals, which also call on police to give verbal warnings before using lethal force and ask agencies to develop policies requiring officers to stop one another from using excessive force, draw from previous California Justice Department recommendations to the Sacramento Police Department.
"These are serious, real proposals that will make a difference," Becerra said at a press conference. "The expectations are high, and we will fight vigorously to meet them. That's why we are urging local authorities across California and our state legislature to work with us in actively engaging in police reform," he added.
Some of the reforms Becerra brought up Monday, like banning officers from shooting at moving vehicles and ending the use of carotid restraints, were issued as a part of a 2019 California Justice Department report, and state agencies must adopt them by January 2021.
"We don't have the authority to require agencies to do something that's not in the statute," Becerra said, in reference to the 2019 report issued by his office. He added that some recommendations would need to go through the state legislature to be enforced.
Becerra said he has been in contact with a number of state lawmakers about legislation to decertify police officers for serious misconduct, including provisions that would require law enforcement agencies to complete misconduct investigations even if the officer in question leaves that department.
The attorney general said the idea of decertifying officers would "get a lot of attention" but at this point, he could not describe any details of the legislation or explain how to clearly define what would constitute serious misconduct by an officer.
At demonstrations across the country in response to the murder of George Floyd by a police officer, protesters have called for "defunding" the police. Becerra is not certain about what protesters are asking for — whether, for example, defunding the police would mean eliminating "the entire budget" for public safety. He told reporters he wants to have a better understanding of what protesters want.
"We are all entitled to public safety in our neighborhoods and we need someone who will do that," Becerra said. But he added that if defunding the police means "reform the way we police in California, I am all for that."
Earlier this month, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said he would not authorize an increase to the Los Angeles Police Department's budget for the upcoming fiscal year, and would instead aim to make cuts and appropriate the funds elsewhere.
The Los Angeles City Council Budget and Finance Committee is now considering Garcetti's proposal to cut up to $150 million from the LAPD's budget.
On Friday, San Francisco Mayor London Breed also unveiled a new police reform plan to change the nature of policing. Among the proposals outlined, San Francisco Police Department officers would stop responding to calls on issues like disputes between neighbors, reports about homeless individuals, and school discipline interventions. Under Breed's proposal, trained and non-armed professionals would respond to these types of calls.
Becerra also revealed that Justice Department investigators will be heading to Palmdale to "engage in the investigation" of Robert Fuller's death. Fuller's body was found hanging from a tree Wednesday, across the street from the Palmdale City Hall.
"It's important for us to take a look at the facts, see what the evidence is, and reach some conclusions, rather than begin to speculate or speak out of turn," Becerra said.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department initially said Fuller died by suicide, but his family believes he was lynched, and has demanded a full investigation. On Monday, shortly before Beccera's press conference, L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villaneuva said the Federal Bureau of Investigation's civil rights division would also be monitoring the investigation.
Villaneuva said he hopes the investigation into Fuller's death will provide the family some closure and promised to leave "no rock unturned."
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