Police Reform in California


As progressives, we must recognize that our country — whatever its promise of life, liberty, happiness, and equality under the law — has a long and deep-seated history of racism and racial inequity. It began with the genocide of indigenous populations and slavery, and continues today with Donald Trump, a white supremacist who continues to attack people of color through harmful federal policies and racist rhetoric. We should recognize it, but we should never accept it, and we should work to fix it.

One of our core organizational principles is that we must treat an attack on one as an attack on all. Therefore, it is critical that we show up to support state-level efforts to advance racial justice whenever we can, wherever we can. This year, there is a critical opportunity in California to fight racial injustice through a package of police reform bills that would help reduce abuses against communities of color.

In this resource:

Policing Disproportionately Impacts Communities of Color

We have a national crisis of police violence against people of color in this country. Black people are three times more likely to be killed by the police than white people. 30% of black police shooting victims are unarmed, compared with 21% of white victims, and 99% of these cases have resulted in the officer’s acquittal.

Black men are killed by the police at a rate that is nearly three times that of white men. 35% of the unarmed people killed by police in 2017 were Black, even though Black people make up only 13% of the population.

In California specifically, officers shot and killed 162 people in 2017. Half of those shooting victims were unarmed. Only 30% of police shooting victims in California were white between 2006 and 2015. This means that blacks were killed by police officers at a rate five times that of whites and Latinos three times (adjusting for population).

California Tackles Police Reform in 2018

California is not immune from the crisis of police violence and is in fact one of the worst. California police departments have the highest rates of killings in the nation and these officers are not held accountable for their actions. Recently, a video surfaced that showed the sheriff of Kern County declaring that it is better for police officers to kill someone rather than injure them. This is disgusting and confirms what we already know: the current system, due to poor training and a lack of accountability, encourages a “shoot first, think-later” approach to policing.

In March, Sacramento Police chased and killed Stephon Clark, an unarmed black man holding his cell phone, in his grandmother’s backyard. This horrendous event has led to a wave of brave #BlackLivesMatter protests in the state’s capital that has shed light onto the issue of police violence and the terrible state of our policing laws in California. Three bills have been introduced in the state legislature this year that could substantially help reduce police violence.

AB 931: Police Use of Deadly Force

Under California law, officers are legally allowed to shoot and kill someone if it is “objectively reasonable.” This means that killing someone is okay even if the killing wasn’t necessary to keep police officers or the public safe.

AB 931 would change the standard for the use of deadly force to only when absolutely necessary. Research shows that strong use of force policies actually do work to reduce police violence.

SB 1421: Police Misconduct Secrecy

California law keeps all investigations and discipline of police officers secret, even for deadly shootings or when an officer’s own department concludes that they committed sexual assault or planted evidence.

Keeping records of police misconduct and serious uses of force secret prevents the public from ensuring that law enforcement officers are held accountable for their actions. This disproportionately harms communities of color and others who suffer the most from police harassment and brutality.

SB 1421, introduced by Sen. Nancy Skinner would lift the veil of police secrecy and improve transparency and accountability by allowing public access to information on police shootings and deadly use of force, as well as confirmed cases of officer misconduct such as sexual assault and serious job related dishonesty.

AB 3131: Police Demilitarization

Following the militarized policing of protests in Ferguson, MO in 2014, President Obama issued an executive order in 2015 to place limits on the sale of surplus military equipment (federal 1033 program) to state and local police departments. The logic is simple: police should not need things like grenade launchers or tanks to carry out their duties and a militarized police force is more likely to use deadly force, which has a profound impact on communities of color.

In August 2017, as part of their ongoing efforts to push a white supremacist agenda, President Trump and Jeff Sessions rolled back Obama’s executive order, allowing police departments access to military-grade weaponry once again.

We estimate that the total value of military equipment received by law enforcement agencies in California under the 1033 program since 1993 is well over $150M and included tanks, armored vehicles, assault rifles and aircraft.

Indivisible CA: StateStrong, a coalition of California Indivisible groups working on state legislative advocacy, has teamed up with the ACLU of California, the American Friends Service Committee, the Friends Committee on Legislation, and the Anti-Police Terror Project to co-sponsor a bill (AB 3131) to bring transparency and accountability to the use of military weapons by police. AB 3131 would require an open hearing when a police force agency wants to purchase military equipment through the federal 1033 program and require reporting by the requesting agency for each piece of military equipment (use policy, proposal for use, annual report on use).

Not only does this bill directly resist the Trump administration’s attempt to militarize the police force, but it creates significant police oversight, which will help to protect our communities of color in California.

SB 1186: Police Surveillance

In addition to military weaponry, law enforcement also acquire all sorts of surveillance technologies that are used without the public’s knowledge or input. The use of these surveillance technologies are an invasion of our privacy and the data that has been obtained has been used against our immigrant communities for deportation raids. Similarly to AB 3131, SB 1186 brings transparency and accountability into police acquisition of surveillance equipment.

What You Can Do

All of these bills will be moving in the legislative session between now and the end of August. At the end of May, your Assemblymember will be voting on AB 3131 on the floor of the Assembly. There are two ways you can get involved:

  1. Schedule an in-district office visit for May 29th, our statewide Indivisible day of action
  2. Call your state Assemblymember

May 29th: Indivisible Day of Action

Indivisibles across the state of California will join forces for a statewide day of action for AB 3131 on May 29th. How can you get involved?

  1. Look up your state Assemblymember here: https://www.castatestrong.org
  2. Call their in-district office and ask for an appointment on May 29th with their district director or staffer that covers public safety issues. When you call, say that you and your Indivisible group would like to talk about the bill AB 3131.
  3. Once you have a meeting time, register it on our map!
    • If you can’t secure a meeting for the 29th, that’s okay. You can still plan to do a drop-in visit that you can document on social media and leave behind some materials.
  4. Recruit members from your group to attend the meeting.
  5. Before the meeting: Make an agenda before you go to your meeting.
    • Be prepared with knowledge about the bill. We have put together some talking points for you to use in your meeting.
    • Do some research about the impact of police militarization in your own community. What types of equipment have law enforcement acquired in your district?
    • Prepare stories about how militarization affects you and others in your community.
    • Assign a member of your group to prepare and address each talking point or story. Also assign a timekeeper and a notetaker.
    • Prepare a brief one- or two-page summary memo to leave behind. If this is your first meeting, include notes on who you are, what you do, and why the topics you discussed in the meeting are important to you. We have prepared a template leave-behind memo for you to use but feel free to customize it for your group!
  6. At the meeting: Be persistent and convey your message!
    • Share your talking points. Have a few people address topics, rather than one or two group leaders.
    • Avoid non answers, if you are not getting responses be firm but polite. Remember your goal is to talk about the issue and share your concerns.
    • Take notes. Don’t expect your representative or their staff to do this.
    • Leave behind your prepared summary. Your representative will have a record of how prepared you were!
    • Document your meeting with video or pictures. Record it or it didn’t happen.  Get a picture of your group at the office. Even better yet, get a video of your group before, during, and/or after. Bottom line, your voice will be louder and better heard if you get documented evidence.
  7. After the meeting: Follow up!
    • Post your takeaways from the meeting on social media.
    • Follow up in the next couple of meetings and reiterate your points and see if there is any progress.

Tell your Assemblymember to vote YES on AB 3131

Call Your Assemblymember Now!
Caller: Hi, my name is <YOUR NAME> and I am from <YOUR TOWN>. I am calling to ask Assemblymember <ASSEMBLYMEMBER NAME> to support AB3131 when it comes to the Assembly floor. AB3131 would require law enforcement to get permission and hold open hearings anytime they wanted to acquire military equipment. Now that the Trump administration has rolled back that ban on transferring military equipment to police, I expect California to step up and implement some serious accountability measures.

Staffer: Thank you for calling. I will pass that information along.

Caller: Thank you, please do. I'd also like to see Assemblymember <ASSEMBLYMEMBER NAME> introduce an amendment to ban certain heavy-duty military equipment from being transferred at all, similar to Obama's executive order. Military weaponry has no place in the hands of those who are tasked with serving and protecting our communities and our neighborhoods are not war zones.