CA Sen. Nancy Skinner introduces 2 police reform bills

Nancy Skinner
Nancy Skinner's Office/Courtesy

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State Senator Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, introduced two bills regarding police reform Monday.

One of the bills, SB 776, aims to expand police transparency and the other, SB 773, would reform California’s police system so that calls associated with mental health, homelessness, drug overdoses and other issues will not require police intervention.

⁠“When officers commit illegal, violent, or discriminatory acts, taxpayers are on the hook for massive cash payouts to settle lawsuits,” Skinner said in a press release. “SB 776 will ensure that law enforcement agencies and the public know when an officer has engaged in misconduct.”

If passed, SB 776 would expand public ability to obtain records of officers’ use of force and wrongful arrests or searches. Additionally, for the first time in 40 years, records that show an officer engaged in biased or discriminatory behavior would also be available to the public.

SB 776 also adds civil fines of $1,000 a day if agencies do not release records and requires punitive damages if the agency is sued for not releasing or improperly redacting records.

According to the press release, this bill will strengthen SB 1421, a police transparency law that went into effect January 2019 and required that a limited set of records on police use of force and serious misconduct be made publicly available.

According to Berkeley Police Review Commission, or PRC, chair Kitty Calavita, the PRC has not yet specifically discussed the merits of the law or how it would change oversight. She added, however, that she believes the bill is an important step in enhancing police oversight in Berkeley and would expand civilians’ role in police oversight across the state

Under SB 773, titled “The Community Assistance Response Act,” California’s 911 Advisory Board would be able to recommend changes to local 911 systems, making violent emergencies the priority for law enforcement and dispatching calls that resemble “welfare checks” to agencies and staff not affiliated with law enforcement.

“It’s time to reimagine policing and how we respond to community needs,” Skinner said in the press release. “SB 773 will reform our 911 system so that law enforcement is not responding to the type of calls that make much more sense to dispatch a social service professional.”

According to the press release, Alameda County is planning to introduce a Community Assessment Treatment and Transport Team.

The program is similar to the Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets, or CAHOOTS, program in Eugene, Oregon, which dispatches teams of medics and mental health counselors to nonviolent situations. According to the press release, these teams handled 18% of the 133,000 calls to 911, only needing police backup on 150 of those calls.

Former PRC chair Sahana Matthews said she admired how these bills focused on the community and the involvement of community members in disciplinary processes of officers.

“I’m really excited to see these bills in particular divert police response for more of what they’re here for and leave more of these social services open for other professionals to take over,” Matthews said.

According to Berkeley Police Department spokesperson Officer Byron White, BPD cannot comment on impending legislation.

Both bills are currently being amended and are in the state Assembly Rules Committee.

Contact Sabrina Dong at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @sabrina_dong_.