State Attorney General Xavier Becerra calls for police reforms addressing use of force

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Xavier Becerra

FILE – In this Nov. 6, 2019, file photo California Attorney General Xavier Becerra gestures while speaking at a media conference in San Francisco. Forty million Californians will shortly obtain sweeping digital privacy rights stronger than any seen before in the U.S., posing a significant challenge to Big Tech and the data economy it helped create. “If we do this right in California,” says Becerra, the state will “put the capital P back into privacy for all Americans.” (AP Photo/Ben Margot, File)

 SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KGET) — State Attorney General Xavier Becerra provided new recommendations today to law enforcement agencies aimed at improving use-of-force procedures, addressing issues around bias in policing and increasing accountability and transparency.

Becerra said the proposals are meant to support and contribute to ongoing national and statewide conversations around efforts to rebuild public trust and strengthen the state’s criminal justice system. They are also meant to keep everyone safe and proactively protect against the unnecessary loss of life.

“Communities across the country have courageously spoken up to demand change. We cannot afford to ignore the realities faced by Black Americans and people of color in this nation,” Becerra said.  “It will take sustained work by all of us to answer the call. That’s why we’re urging local authorities across California and we in state government to actively work with community leaders to achieve lasting, forward-thinking, comprehensive policing reform.”

Becerra suggests that law enforcement agencies adopt the following policies:

  • Intervention: All agencies should have a policy requiring officers to intervene to stop another officer from using excessive or unnecessary force.
  • Ban chokeholds and carotid restraints: All agencies should have a policy prohibiting the use of chokeholds, strangleholds, carotid restraints or other restraints, or body positioning that is designed to, or which may result in, the cutting off of blood or oxygen to the person.
  • De-escalation: All agencies should require officers to de-escalate situations, when possible, before using force.
  • Proportionality: All agencies should provide express guidance on proportionality to ensure officers understand the relationship that should exist between the force they use and the threat presented in a particular situation. The guidance may include adopting a spectrum, chart, or matrix, which can take the form of a graphical representation.
  • Verbal warnings: All agencies should require officers to give verbal warning, when feasible, before using force, whether lethal or less-lethal.
  • Moving vehicles: All agencies should prohibit officers from discharging a firearm at the operator or occupant of a moving vehicle unless the operator or occupant poses an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury to the public or an officer. All agencies should also prohibit officers from discharging a firearm from their moving vehicle, providing only for exceptions that require such actions to end an imminent threat to human life.
  • Deadly force as last resort: All agencies should require that deadly force be used only as a last resort when reasonable alternatives have been exhausted or are not feasible to protect the safety of the public and police officers.
  • Comprehensive reporting: All agencies should create a general order dedicated to use of force reporting and investigations, requiring comprehensive reporting that includes both uses of force and threats of force.
  • Canine use: All agencies should discontinue the use of “find and bite” and “bite and hold” techniques and instead implement “find and bark” or “circle and bark” techniques, where canines are trained and deployed to alert by barking, rather than biting a suspect as a first response, and then circling and barking until the handler takes control.

In addition to these use-of-force recommendations, the AG’s Office says the following policies should also be implemented:

  • Decertify peace officers for serious misconduct, including provisions requiring law enforcement agencies to complete investigations even after a peace officer leaves a department.
  • Expand reviews of law enforcement policies and practices, by enhancing DOJ’s capacity to review and proactively help law enforcement agencies across the state reform their policies and practices to align with community needs.
  • Require policies and training on bias by proxy, which occurs when a person calls the police and makes false or ill-informed claims about individuals they are biased against — as well as provisions for auditing the effectiveness of such training.
  • Place clear limits on crowd control techniques during protests or mass gatherings, including restrictions and guidance on the use of rubber bullets, tear gas, pepper spray, and batons.
  • Forbid the use of pepper spray against children in juvenile detention, which can traumatize juveniles and undermine efforts to build trust.
  • Re-examine the role of police in addressing homelessness and mental health crises, recognizing that police officers are increasingly called upon as first responders to engage with people facing homelessness who may suffer from mental illness or other medical conditions, and that officers are not generally equipped to handle situations involving mental health crises or referrals for social services.

In addition these reforms, Becerra said his department is still conducting investigations into several law enforcement departments, including the Kern County Sheriff’s Office and the Bakersfield Police Department.

The AG’s Office is conducting “pattern-or-practice” investigations into the departments to determine if there have been any practices or patterns involving discriminatory policing, excessive force and other methods of unconstitutional policing.

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