Blame game as car break-ins escalate in S.F.

As reported by the San Francisco Chronicle:

An alarming 47 percent spike in San Francisco car break-ins in the first half of this year has prompted a blame game between police, prosecutors and politicians while repeat victims like Kelley Maulbetsch are left feeling exasperated and helpless.

When Maulbetsch walked to her car one morning last week in San Francisco’s Mission District, her usual upbeat demeanor quickly gave way to sour frustration. Someone had smashed a hole in the rear passenger-side window of her Volkswagen Jetta station wagon and made off with the paltry haul — two camping chairs and a music stand.

Pea-size pieces of glass were strewn about her car’s interior while chunks of the window still broke away from the hastily punched hole as she pulled up later that day to In and Out Auto Glass in the city’s Bayview district. …

Click here to read the full article

SF’s Police Chief Orders Officers to Play Nice for Appearance’s Sake

Police carEver since the eruption of violence in Ferguson, Missouri, following the death of Michael Brown, the nation’s police have come under severe scrutiny for any evidence of racial bias. The deaths of Eric Garner in New York, Walter Scott in Charleston, South Carolina, and Freddie Gray in Baltimore only intensified the focus on police tactics as buildings burned, protestors stopped freeway and bridge traffic, and cops clashed with civilians. Amid cries that “black lives matter,” widespread riots and further civil unresthave put police on their heels in cities that need their protection the most.

San Francisco police chief Greg Suhr responded to the threat of public turbulence and heightened awareness in a departmental bulletin published on April 27. Titled “Avoiding the ‘Lawful but Awful’ Use of Force,” the chief’s memorandum, number 15-106, began with something very close to an admission that his main concern involved publicity—not the safety of the police and public, but the media image of his subordinates and himself. “A ‘Lawful but Awful’ use of force is a use of force that is within the law and within Department policy,” Suhr wrote, “but an action that produces an undesirable outcome which is tragic not only for the individual(s) involved, but for all those touched by or exposed to the event.”

Reading like a disciplinary lecture from a high school principal, Suhr’s guidance noted that a previous bulletin “requires officers to create time, distance, and establish a rapport with people in crisis who are only a danger to themselves.” Creating “time, distance, and . . . rapport” seems to be bureaucratic jargon mandating that police give people threatening them and others a period for reflection, an opportunity to detach themselves from a confrontation, and an offer of sympathy and comfort. Suhr’s memorandum repeats the formula, embellishing on it and emphasizing that “the strongest officers are those who consider all options—including creating time, distance, and establishing a rapport.” Bulletin 15-106 concludes, in an idiom weak in literacy, “An officer may not discharge a firearm at a person who presents a danger only to him or herself, and there is no reasonable cause to believe that the person poses an imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury to the officer or any other person” (bolded phrase and italics in the original bulletin).

SFPD’s rank and file have interpreted the bulletin as an order to give offenders a “head start” (time) in escaping the scene (distance) of their disputes with law enforcement and ordinary citizens, encouraged by the friendly demeanor (rapport) of police they encounter. Officers of the law, not for the first time, are expected to conduct themselves in the manner of social workers. While such an approach to disorderly and illegal behavior is hardly new, it appears especially inappropriate when outbursts of civil upheaval are spreading.

The mission of police to maintain public order is obstructed in San Francisco, where lawlessness and contempt for the rights of others increase daily. Notwithstanding the technological revolution continuing in nearby Silicon Valley, San Franciscans must contend each day with more homeless occupying the pavements and parks, more aggression against ordinary people attempting to go about their business, and more outright, serious lawbreaking. Faced with growing turmoil, Chief Suhr has commanded his troops to stand down, the better to avoid media hostility.

Police personnel in the city are discontented with the bulletin and the attitude it represents, which they view as requirement for a “hands off” approach to miscreants. For the benefit of police and citizens alike, Suhr should withdraw his memo. But he is unlikely to do so. For those responsible for the tranquility of San Francisco, an image of failure appears preferable to media complications produced by “lawful but awful” use of force. In such an environment, fewer people will feel the call to put on the badge and protect and serve the public.

Can Unionized Police Be Held Accountable for Misconduct?

“We thought [the employees we fired] were inappropriate to be employees of the city.”

– Los Angeles Police Chief Bernard Parks (ret.), in reference to the termination of corrupt police officers, Rampart scandal (late 1990’s)

police-badgeAbout a year ago UnionWatch.org published an editorial asking this question, “How much does professionalism cost,” using as an example the tragic death of Kelly Thomas. In that case, six police officers repeatedly struck with batons and tased an unarmed man, who died a few days later of his injuries. Since that tragedy back in 2011, numerous cases of police misconduct have surfaced, many of them with equally tragic consequences. The latest one, while inexcusable, is more farce than tragedy, involving a team of Santa Ana police officers who recently raided a marijuana dispensary in that city.

The misconduct didn’t involve murderous violence, but it did involve blatantly unprofessional behavior. Once the officers secured the dispensary and ejected the staff and customers, they proceeded to disable the security cameras, and, at least according to the video recording from the camera they neglected to destroy, some went on to gobble up marijuana “edibles.” Watch this video and make up your own mind whether or not these individuals are engaging in conduct appropriate for employees of the Santa Ana police department.

Former Sacramento County Sheriff John McGinness, on his radio talk show, has frequently discussed the issue of police misconduct. He makes an observation that bears repeating – in a population of over 1 million police officers in the United States, it is inevitable that you will have bad apples. It is statistically impossible to have a group of humans that large, where every single individual will be beyond reproach. There will always be a percentage of crooks and thugs who slip through. It can’t be helped.

Critics of police fall roughly into two camps – those who are concerned about police respecting civil rights, and those who are concerned about excessive police pay and benefits. While there’s overlap, these are very distinct concerns. But those who are concerned police overstate the risks of their job in order to justify increasing their pay are often the same ones who overlook the fact that police misconduct can also be overstated. Critics can’t have it both ways. Police fatalities are rare. Police misconduct is also rare.

What can be helped, however, is how police who do cross the line are held accountable.

According to a source at an Orange County blog that covered the pot bust, the supervising officer on the scene was Alex Sanchez, a police sergeant with the city of Santa Ana who in 2013 made $107,952 in regular pay, $27,205 in “other pay,” $16,184 in overtime pay, and earned employer paid benefits of another $68,820. In other words, this officer earned pay and direct benefits during 2013 of $221,162. This rate of pay is not unusual. Take a look at the pay for Santa Ana city employees – note how nearly all of the high paying positions are for police officers.

Citizens have a right to expect better behavior from a police officer who makes this much money. And a police officer who makes this much money should be prepared to be held accountable. In the corporate world, on-the-job drug use, vandalism, or insults directed at a member of a protected status group are all grounds for instant termination. And in the corporate world, despite repeated claims to the contrary by government union propagandists, total compensation packages in excess of $200,000 per year are very unusual. Notwithstanding that incessantly cited handful of rapacious and untouchable Wall Street bankers, corporate managers and executives who make $200,000 or more per year have little or no job security, and are held accountable, and terminated, for transgressions of far less import.

There’s more. When critics of police conduct say police should not consider themselves above the law, they’re right, but they don’t go far enough. Police should not merely obey the law, they should be role models. By their words and deeds they should inspire the rest of us. The destruction of cameras, the needless vandalism, the profanity, and the insults undermine respect for law enforcement, which is the human face of the laws we must obey.

Police unions not only highlight the risk officers face as the reason they deserve excellent pay and benefits, they highlight the professional requirements of the job. Police perform an incredibly difficult job that goes well beyond the physical risk they live with. Every day, they have to deal with uncertain, volatile situations, with agitated individuals and groups, with hostility and disrespect, and with violent criminals. Police work in 2014 America requires more professionalism than ever. That’s why they’re paid like professionals. But with professionalism comes accountability.

Police officers depend on the trust and solidarity of their colleagues. That is a necessary and proper element of an effective police force. But police unions overlay onto that solidarity an us-vs-them mentality, as well as a layer of protection against individual accountability, that at the least may be described as problematic. Police unions, like teachers unions, may consciously proclaim their commitment to the broad public interest, but their organizational agenda invariably pulls them away from the people they serve.

*   *   *

Ed Ring is the executive director of the California Policy Center.

SF Disability Discrimination Case Could Hobble Law Enforcement Nationwide

adaThe Americans with Disabilities Act, passed by Congress in 1990, was the product of good intentions. Its proponents — President George H.W. Bush chief among them — wanted to eliminate arbitrary barriers to the physically disabled. “Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down,” Bush solemnly declared at the legislation’s signing ceremony. The ADA sailed through Congress with little resistance. Unfortunately, as is so often the case with federal do-goodery, those good intentions produced a poorly drafted statute full of vague definitions, ambiguous obligations, and complicated enforcement schemes, made even worse by byzantine enabling regulations and far-fetched judicial interpretations.

Twenty-five years later, the true consequences of the ADA are still unfolding. Hijacked by trial lawyers, government bureaucrats, and activist judges, the noble goals of the ADA have brought instead a host of other absurdities: costly and ubiquitous (and largely unused) curb cuts and ramps in public areas; Braille buttons on drive-through ATMs; alcoholic pilots and truck drivers, deaf lifeguards, and one-legged firefighters; drug-addicted employees who can’t be fired, lest employers “discriminate” against a “protected class”; and serial litigants — some of whom have filed thousands of lawsuits — who make a cottage industry out of fly-specking small businesses’ compliance with arcane and prolix structural requirements for bathrooms and parking lots. Much to the likely chagrin of the ADA’s proponents, the definition of “disabled” is not limited to people in wheelchairs — it includes those suffering from morbid obesity, drug addiction, phobias, allergies, narcolepsy, sleep apnea, and dyslexia. Of the estimated 43 million “disabled” Americans protected by the ADA, fewer than 2 percent are in wheelchairs, the vast majority of whom reside in nursing homes.

Employers must “reasonably accommodate” this thicket of disabilities by restructuring job duties, granting leaves, providing technological support, hiring assistants, granting reassignments, making “individualized determinations,” and entering into “interactive dialogues,” all while ignoring “discriminatory customer preferences” and, of course, “traditional stereotypes” (no matter how well-founded). The ADA essentially requires employers to function as social workers and ignore the economic burden unless it constitutes an “undue hardship.” In short, the ADA has short-circuited common sense.

Alas, critics have railed against the asininity — and astronomical compliance costs — of the ADA, to no avail. Despite their most dire predictions about the law’s nonsensical potential those critics had no inkling of the ridiculous extremes that were yet to come, thanks to an inventive ruling of the San Francisco-based U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Last year, in Sheehan v. San Francisco, the Ninth Circuit held that the ADA applies to law-enforcement officers, and requires them to “accommodate” armed, violent suspects if they are “mentally ill” (and therefore “disabled”). The case arose from an incident in 2008 involving two female police officers who were responding to a call for assistance by a social worker at a group home for the mentally ill. The social worker had been threatened with a knife by one of the residents under his care, a middle-aged woman with schizophrenia named Teresa Sheehan (whose condition had deteriorated because she refused to take her medication). The social worker wanted to have Sheehan involuntarily committed for 72 hours for evaluation and treatment, and requested that the police transport her to the mental health facility for that purpose. When the officers arrived, Sheehan became violent, grabbed a knife, and threatened to kill the officers. The officers drew their weapons and unsuccessfully attempted to subdue Sheehan with pepper spray. In the course of trying to arrest Sheehan (who was still brandishing the knife), the officers shot her several times. Sheehan survived, and sued the officers (and the City of San Francisco) in federal court for various claims, including violation of the ADA. Sheehan did not dispute that she was armed and violent. She alleged, however, that “the officers should have respected her comfort zone, engaged in non-threatening communications and used the passage of time to defuse the situation.” The federal district judge, Charles Breyer (younger brother of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer), dismissed the case before trial on summary judgment. Sheehan appealed.

The Ninth Circuit ruled, as a matter of first impression, that the ADA applies to all arrests, even those involving violent confrontations, and that a jury should decide whether the officers “reasonably accommodated” the violent, knife-wielding suspect “by employing generally accepted police practices for peaceably resolving a confrontation with a person with mental illness.” The city appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which heard the case on March 23. The city contends that the ADA should not apply to police conduct when public safety is at risk. According to the FBI, about 400 people are killed each year by police—as justifiable homicides in the exercise of deadly force. Sadly, at least half the people killed by the police have mental health problems of some sort, according to a 2013 report from the Treatment Advocacy Center and the National Sheriffs’ Association.

Do we want juries second-guessing hundreds of police encounters each year to determine if armed, violent suspects were mentally ill and if the police “reasonably accommodated” the suspects? Police officers are not psychiatrists. They cannot be expected to diagnose whether a violent suspect is mentally ill or merely mean and aggressive. People who threaten to kill the police are by definition unreasonable and even irrational. Some social scientists believe that all criminals are emotionally disturbed; should this entitle them to special treatment by law enforcement? Hamstringing the police endangers public safety. Split-second decisions made in violent confrontations with armed suspects are not suitable for Monday morning quarterbacking. If the Supreme Court does not reverse the Ninth Circuit’s ludicrous decision in Sheehan v. San Francisco, the errant intentions of the ADA will have succeeded in disabling the police.

Excessive Traffic Tickets: Hurting the Middle Class Again​

Police carEven good drivers get an occasional ticket. But in the last several years, there has been a perverse incentive for eagle-eyed enforcement officers to issue even more citations.  We are now discovering that California drivers are a goldmine for government by the imposition of traffic fines that are absurdly excessive.As recently as 2005, a ticket for drivers going from one to 15 mph over the speed limit in California would cost $99. This would include a base fine of $25 and additional charges of $74 to be shared with the state, the county, the courts and other programs.  Only nine years later the same ticket would include a base fine of $35 and another $203 to be divided among the usual suspects for a total of $238.

Currently, a ticket with a fine of $120 will cost the motorist about $627 by the time all the additional charges are added.   These penalty assessments are running more than four times the base fine.

Years ago, the idea behind traffic fines was to encourage safe driving by penalizing those who put themselves and others in danger.  In 1953, the first penalty assessment was established at the rate of one dollar for every $20 in base fine.  In those days the proceeds of the additional charge went to fund driver education in schools.  Today, the additional charges go to pay for state and local programs and to build and renovate courthouses.

No one seems to know exactly how much government rakes in from fines and the penalty assessments, but a study dating back to 2006, when the charges were much smaller, estimated the revenue at over a half billion dollars a year.

State Senator Robert Hertzberg has introduced legislation to help those who have lost drivers licenses due to failure to pay non-public safety related tickets.  Concerned that local jurisdictions have piled on fees for minor traffic violations to make up for lost revenue during the recession, he wants to match these drivers up with an amnesty program proposed by Jerry Brown that would reduce fines by 50 percent for eligible participants.

The problem is that both Hertzberg and Brown, while trying to help low income drivers, are ignoring the elephant in the room.  That is the millions of average folks for whom a traffic ticket can result in having to forgo almost a week’s pay.  Those in public office do not want to stand up for the typical motorists because they are not about to give up the income these punitive fines provide.

There’s no reason for these grossly inflated fines — fines that far exceed what is needed to deter unsafe driving — other than to provide the politicians with more spending money.

Excessive traffic fines are yet another example of the war being waged against the middle class by the political elite who have already burdened California drivers with high gas taxes and registration fees.  For the rich, a $500 traffic fine is no big deal.  For a working family, it may mean skipping a few meals.

So while the majority party in California loves to talk about how much they look out for the middle class, the reality is that they really don’t care.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.

Should citizens be allowed to videotape police in action?

Faced with mounting criticism over civil liberties abuses, lawmakers in Sacramento greenlit a so-called clarification of Californians’ right to videotape and photograph police officers on the job.

Senate Bill 411, introduced by state Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, protects the practice so long as active bystanders are “not interfering with official duties,” the Los Angeles Times noted.

videotaping policeAccording to the bill’s language, “the fact that a person takes a photograph or makes an audio or video recording of an executive officer, while the officer is in a public place or the person taking the photograph or making the recording is in a place he or she has the right to be, is not, in and of itself, a violation[.]”

What’s more, Lara’s bill set out that photographing or videotaping police in that matter would not “constitute reasonable suspicion to detain the person or probable cause to arrest the person.”

Setting a trend

Passing 31-3 in the state Senate, SB411 headed to the Assembly, setting up California to become a possible trendsetter in the way citizen monitoring of police could be treated. Currently, no national consensus has formed around the issue, leaving legislative momentum up for grabs at the state level.

Although settled constitutional law has recognized both a right to videotape and a right to prevent interference with policing, widespread departures from that standard have prompted state lawmakers to intervene. In Colorado, for instance, a recent bill “proposed making it a crime for police to stop citizens from filming,” as the Daily Beast observed.

But, across the country, pieces of legislation have run into trouble regardless of which side of the debate they favor. In Connecticut, for instance, a bill permitting “lawsuits against police officers who interfere with those photographing or videotaping them during the performance of their duties was blocked Monday by Republicans in the judiciary committee,”according to the Hartford Courant.

In Texas, meanwhile, a police-friendly “cop-watcher” bill drew fire from legal observers, journalists, gun owners and others:

Dallas-area House representative Jason Villalba introduced HB 2918, which would make it a misdemeanor to photograph police within 25 feet — raising serious concerns that the bill, if passed, would violate the First Amendment and prevent individuals from holding police accountable. For Texans legally carrying a firearm, the buffer zone required would be 100 feet under Villalba’s proposal.

Halting progress

As Calwatchdog.com previously reported, Sacramento has labored to keep up with changing technology, police tactics and public opinion. In January, several Democratic lawmakers introduced legislation around the use of on-cop bodycams. By videotaping situations police entered into, the logic ran, misconduct would decrease at the same time that police gained clear evidence of proper conduct that could help prevent lawsuits or help resolve them to the departments’ benefit.

police-body-cameraAttorney General Kamala Harris, for her part, has long considered police abuses to be an important part of her political and legal agenda — a stance that could gain prominence as her bid to replace Sen. Barbara Boxer draws more potent challengers.

Despite widespread support for bodycams among Democrats, along with many libertarians and some Republicans, the policy has attracted its share of problems. In Los Angeles, where Democratic Mayor Eric Garcetti blazed a path toward standardizing the equipment, concern has persisted over the use of cloud storage, as Southern California Public Radio reported:

“Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti will present this month his proposed city budget for the coming year. It’s expected to include money for body cameras for all Los Angeles Police Department officers. But some security analysts argue the LAPD’s plan to store body camera video in the cloud could make the images more vulnerable to attack than if the department placed them on its local servers.”

As yet, the question of cloud storage for recordings of police has not yet threatened to stall the progress of SB411  in Sacramento.

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Bill Seeks to Give DNA Collection Powers Back to Police

As reported by the Sacramento Bee:

Police officers would regain powers to collect DNA that a voter-approved initiative stripped away under legislation announced Thursday by Assemblyman Jim Cooper, D-Elk Grove, with the backing of district attorneys and lawmakers from both parties.

“Forensic DNA is the greatest tool ever given to law enforcement to find the guilty and to exonerate the innocent,” Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert said at an event announcing Assembly Bill 390.

In overwhelmingly approving Proposition 47 in November, Californians endorsed more lenient sentences for crimes like theft and drug possession, reducing them from felonies to misdemeanors. That reduced the reach of a program allowing officers to take the genetic information of suspects arrested for felonies. The Department of Justice estimates Proposition 47 has already diminished the rate of DNA collection by 10 to 20 percent. …

 

Police Face New Rules When Seizing Money From Drug Suspects

As reported by the Orange County Register:

Local police are scrambling to fill the financial hole left in their drug-fighting resources by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to stop allowing them to take cash and property from suspected dealers without warrants or convictions.

Holder’s decision is limited to federal asset forfeiture rules. And for regional task forces that include federal agents – such as the Orange County Regional Narcotics Suppression Program – there may be no change. Local police departments increasingly might use state forfeiture programs that offer more protection for defendants.

Holder said in his announcement last week he was attempting to safeguard civil liberties. …

Read the full story here

What’s the Real Reason for Police Understaffing in San Diego?

Whenever there is a shortage of police personnel in a California city, a common reason cited is inadequate pay. When officers at a particular agency are paid less than their counterparts at some other agency, so the theory goes, they quit in order to start working where they can make more. This seems to be sound logic. But is it supported by facts? According to a new study “Analysis of the Reasons for San Diego Police Department Employee Departures,” released last week by the California Policy Center, the answer to that question is a resounding “no.” Authored by Robert Fellner, research director for the Transparent California project, the study’s findings contradicted the conventional wisdom. They were:

  • Claims that SDPD officers were leaving to join other departments misrepresented the data on attrition, by focusing on the 10% who left to join other departments, instead of the 60% who retired.
  • These claims also misrepresented the overall data regarding staffing and recruitment, focusing on approximately 20 people leaving in a department of nearly 1,800 while ignoring the fact that there were 3,000 applicants for open 25 positions.
  • In support of these claims, a misleading study, funded by the city of San Diego, only analyzed base pay, the only category of pay San Diego didn’t boost in their 2014 pay raises for the SDPD.
  • This same study compared San Diego to one of the most expensive cities in the world – San Francisco and other totally different markets, instead of comparing SDPD pay to rates of pay in neighboring cities.

One thing that is not in serious debate is the fact that the San Diego Police Department is understaffed, like many other police departments in California. But the reason they are understaffed is a result of poor recruitment efforts. Fellner writes:

“The City’s ability to recruit new candidates would be seriously compromised when budget decisions in FY 2009 and FY 2010 resulted in the City cutting its quarterly academy class sizes from 50 to 25. In FY 2011 the City cancelled all but one academy class, a decision that ‘resulted in a lost opportunity to add approximately 57 additional recruits.’ And what did happen after the hiring freeze of 2011 ended? The SDPD received over 3,000 applicants for just 25 positions in its first academy class of 2012, according to 10News. This is symptomatic of a larger trend – a tremendous, unmet demand to work in law enforcement in the San Diego area. For example, the following year the nearby San Diego County Sheriff’s Department received over 4,000 applicants for their 275 deputy positions.”

There is no shortage of people who want to work in law enforcement in San Diego. Surely a few hundred of these many thousands of applicants are qualified to do the work.

While the facts don’t support the assertion that San Diego is losing police officers to other departments, the facts do support an alarming loss of officers to retirement, a problem that is getting worse. But if recruitment isn’t a problem, what difference does it make if officers retire in great numbers? The problem is the cost for these retirements take away funds that could be used to pay for more police academy classes, and more active officers on the force. To fund an adequately staffed police force, San Diego could have reduced retirement formulas to the levels they were back in the 1990’s – i.e., reducing them back to levels that are fair and financially sustainable. Instead, to induce veteran officers to delay retiring, San Diego joined several other California cities in implementing “DROP,” which stands for “Deferred Retirement Option Program.”

In general, the way DROP works is this:  A retirement eligible employee agrees to freeze their retirement benefit accrual and continue to work, usually for five more years. Then, while they continue to work for the city and get paid as an active employee, the pension they would be earning if they had retired is paid into an interest bearing account. When they retire, the entire amount accrued in that pension account is paid to them in a lump sum, and from then on they begin to directly collect their pension.

Take a look at Transparent California’s listing of San Diego’s pension payouts in 2013. Nearly all of the top pensions are police and fire personnel who received massive lump sum payments under the DROP program. This is a scandalous waste of money. The primary reason SDPD officers leave their department is to retire. So instead of investing in recruitment efforts to replace retirees, the San Diego implemented the DROP program, at staggering expense, to retain veterans a little longer.

As always, the power behind these distortions of logic and perversions of policy are the government unions. Unlike the police officers themselves, who almost invariably want to serve their communities and make a positive difference in people’s lives, government unions thrive on fomenting resentment and alienation. The more anger they can manipulate their members into feeling, the more righteous indignation those members will bring to city council meetings, and the more dues they will willingly pay to purchase candidates for local office. Ultimately, what government unions thrive on is the failure of government, because the worse things get, the more money they will demand to fix the problems.

Inadequate pay is not the reason SDPD has a staffing shortage. Excessive pensions, the staggering expense of DROP, and a failure to fund recruitment efforts are the reasons why. The unions would have you think otherwise.

Ed Ring is the executive director of the California Policy Center.

Sacramento Aims To Police The Police

After a politically punishing year for law enforcement departments from Los Angeles to New York, California legislators are riding the wave of controversy, drafting a spate of bills that would use the power of state government to assert more control over how police officers do their jobs.

The move exploits an unusual situation that has developed in Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration. When it comes to criminal justice, Brown’s attention is largely consumed with “realignment” — his effort to satisfy a series of court orders on prison crowding by shifting inmates, costs and responsibilities from the state’s prisons to county jails.

But Attorney General Kamala Harris sees police conduct as central; in her inauguration address, she drew special attention to what she called a statewide “crisis of confidence” in law enforcement, driven by a “string of injustice” running through urban and minority communities.

There have been bumps in the road even for Harris, however. “While Harris’ office recently launched a plan to investigate and improve bias and use-of-force training for law enforcement, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights has criticized her for pushing back against demands for an independent prosecutor to handle cases of police brutality,” ThinkProgress observed. Politically unable to fully rebuke or embrace Brown’s realignment plan, Harris has also struggled to steer clear of the controversy that surrounds it.

But with Harris now a formidable 2016 contender for the U.S. Senate seat to be vacated by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., state legislators face a moment of opportunity, support and attention historically rare for would-be police reformers.

A unified front

With plenty of ideas to go around, Sacramento Democrats are able to push for their own particular proposals, while maintaining a cohesive approach to policy. Assembly Bill 86, drafted by Assemblyman Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, takes advantage of Harris’ influence and sympathy. As NBC San Diego reported, the bill “would create a law enforcement panel, likely within the state Attorney General’s office, to study each case of a California police officer fatally shooting someone and write reviews or issue recommendations.”

Other legislators have focused on related pieces of legislation. According to U-T San Diego, Assemblyman Freddie Rodriguez, D-Pomona, is at work on two key bills.

The first, an early draft of AB69, would mandate police body cameras throughout the state. (Steve Soboroff, president of the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners, has taken an early lead implementing the technology.)

The second, AB71, would expand federal data collection on California crimes. Currently, U-T reports, the Justice Department gathers self-reported data from law enforcement on “civilian deaths in police custody, including race.” AB71 “would expand that data collection to include non-fatal shootings and injuries sustained by police officers.”

At the same time, Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, D-San Diego, is advancing AB66, designed to create a unified set of standard practices for body camera use in California police departments. Body cams are already in use in Weber’s district. So far, the city has already introduced 300 cameras into central and southeastern San Diego.

Up for grabs

For Republicans, the political landscape surrounding policing offers risks and opportunities. In California, the GOP’s overarching position could well be up for grabs.

Nationally, Republicans have begun to adopt a more clement attitude, thanks in part to striking figures that show crime at significant lows. As Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, told The New York Times, “There are a lot of ideas — prison reform, policing, sentencing — being discussed now that wouldn’t be if we hadn’t had this drop in the crime statistics.”

The Senate’s leading unorthodox Republicans, such as Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Rand Paul, R-Ky., carry considerable favor among California’s libertarians and libertarian-leaning Republicans. Paul is considered a contender for the GOP nomination for president in 2016.

In the absence of a strong stance from within the state, Lee and Paul’s support for prison reform could supply California Republicans with adequate political cover to advance some proposals of their own.

This article was originally published on CalWatchdog.com