Despite progress made in recent years to change policing practices in California, law enforcement still has the political clout to block bills it doesn’t like.
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After George Floyd’s murder in May 2020, California’s Democratic-controlled Legislature passed a wave of new laws to change how cops do their jobs, from banning chokeholds to decertifying officers with misconduct records and increasing investigations into fatal police shootings.
Despite those wins for progressives, law enforcement groups flexed their power last week by blocking two controversial measures and securing changes to other bills that aim to limit the scope of their work.
Their victories underscore the significant sway that police unions and similar organizations still have in the state Capitol, where moderate Democrats and Republicans regularly team up to kill bills that law enforcement dislikes, despite the continued push by activists for more sweeping reforms.
Here are two bills that police organizations stalled and another two that they successfully watered down before a key June 2 deadline:
Failed: restricting the use of police dogs
Law enforcement made a bill to restrict when officers can use police dogs their biggest priority this year, and lobbied hard over the last several weeks to ensure it failed.
Assembly Bill 742 would have banned police from using canines to arrest or apprehend people, unless there’s a threat of imminent death or serious bodily injury. The proposal still would have allowed cops to use the dogs for search and rescue and to detect narcotics and explosives.
In an opposition statement included in an analysis of the bill, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said that while some restrictions were warranted, AB 742 “severely restricts an officer’s ability to employ a proven, effective, and less lethal force option that can de-escalate other potentially life-threatening situations.”
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Black and Latino people accounted for roughly 63% of canine use-of-force incidents in 2021, according to data from the state Department of Justice. Advocates supporting the bill, including the ACLU, argued that California should eliminate police use of canines in part because of their association with historic acts of racism, pointing to police dogs being used to hunt and capture slaves and against protesters during the civil rights movement.
Lawmakers were not persuaded. The bill failed to garner enough votes to pass, and Assemblymember Corey Jackson (D-Perris) pulled it from consideration.
“At the end of the day, law enforcement is good at policing everyone but themselves,” Jackson said, adding that he’s received multiple death threats for authoring the bill.
Failed: banning consent searches during traffic stops
Assemblymember Isaac Bryan (D-Los Angeles) figured the third anniversary of when a Minneapolis police officer killed Floyd would be a good opportunity to pass a bill to prohibit consent searches by officers.
Instead, Assembly Bill 93 fell several votes short of passage, with more than two dozen Democrats opposing the measure or withholding their vote. The bill would have prohibited officers from asking for consent to search people and their vehicles during traffic stops without a warrant or other legal justification.
Bryan cited data that show the searches are disproportionately used against Black and brown people, who often don’t feel safe saying no to a consent search even if they are not doing anything illegal.
“Guess who always says yes,” Bryan said. “Guess what happens if you say no.”
The proposal was a top priority for the Legislative Black Caucus, and among the recommendations made by a high-profile criminal justice panel that advises state lawmakers on ways to reduce racial disparities in the criminal justice system and avoid longer prison terms.
Law enforcement groups worked hard to block the bill, which they characterized as the removal of a vital public safety tool that people voluntarily agree to.
California Police Chiefs Association President Alex Gammelgard said that AB 93 “was a dangerous approach that would have made our communities less safe.”
“We can continue to make improvements to public safety without these types of broad prohibitions against legitimate police work,” Gammelgard said in a written statement.
Passed, with changes: limiting when officers can pull people over
The Legislative Black Caucus also prioritized restricting when officers can make so-called pretextual stops, which is when a cop suspects drivers of illegal activity and uses a minor traffic violation, such as a busted tail light or expired registration tags, to pull them over.
Senate Bill 50 would still allow officers to cite people for minor infractions if they were also pulled over for more serious violations such as running a stop sign or speeding. But state Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena) said SB 50 would make sure that officers weren’t using minor violations to target Black and brown drivers under a racially biased belief that they are committing crimes.
“A broken taillight should not lead to one losing their life,” Bradford said. “This is about making everyone safer, both law enforcement and the general public.”
Amid concerns from his Democratic colleagues and opposition from law enforcement, Bradford agreed to amendments that would loosen SB 50’s restrictions. The first change would allow officers to pull someone over in cases where there are two or more minor infractions — say, for a driver had an expired registration and covered license plate. The second makes it clear that evidence collected during a stop could be used in court. That means if an officer illegally pulled someone over for a minor traffic violation but also found drugs or an illegal firearm, for example, that evidence could still be used against them.
The bill narrowly passed 22-11 and now moves to the Assembly, which has until Sept. 14 to vote on it.
Passed, with changes: using cellphone data
Police groups managed to secure a change in an abortion-rights bill that would still let them use warrants to obtain cellphone and caller location data to solve crimes. The measure aims to protect people seeking an abortion in California from being identified by surveillance measures from states that have banned abortions. Law enforcement claimed that without the amendment, the bill would remove an effective investigative tool in non-abortion cases.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.