On Wednesday, California Attorney General Rob Bonta said his office will decide whether to charge police officers involved in fatal civilian shootings, taking that power away from local District Attorney’s offices.
Assembly Bill 1506 says that the California Department of Justice would handle the investigation of police shootings that lead to the death unarmed people.
Bonta, announcing details of the Assembly Bill, said, “Californians deserve to know there is a fair and impartial process in place to capably investigate officer-involved shootings in this state.”
Bonta said there are about 40 to 50 police shootings in California each year. Two teams from his office, comprised of 27 agents, will review those types of cases going forward. The teams will immediately respond to the shooting death scene. The matter will then be reviewed by a team of special state prosecutors. The final charging decisions will be up to the AG’s office, not local district attorneys.
“Once our office has completed the review the California Department of Justice will make public its determinations regarding potential criminal prosecutions, either through a written report explaining why charges are not appropriate or we will file criminal charges,” he said.
Lucy Olango saw her brother, Alfred, shot and killed by an El Cajon police officers five years ago. In tears, she described the scene to NBC 7.
“I just felt so helpless, standing there. He couldn’t process it. I was saying ‘Please don’t kill him, don’t shoot him.’ Figure out a better way to be humane and be passionate.”
On Wednesday Lucy Olango told NBC 7 that AB 1506, “Should have been implemented a long time ago. It is way overdue and a much-needed change. The new guidelines are the right direction to fairness and to properly do investigations that are not biased.”
The measure was opposed by some law enforcement groups, including the California State Sheriffs’ Association, which said it could result in duplicate state and local investigations.
Critics also said the state DOJ lacked the resources and was not equipped to take on the new responsibilities.
Paul Cappitelli worked in law enforcement for over 40 years. He’s now a public safety consultant and police practices expert who hopes politics don’t play a part in the new law.
“I just want to make sure that politics and public opinion do not drive the ultimate decision as to whether or not the officer made the right decision in shooting someone or not,” he said. “We’ve seen that in other jurisdictions before in other parts of the country where there is a large groundswell of political pressure.”
State teams will begin reviewing any case that occurred on July 1, 2021, and move forward from there. The state budget includes $13 million to staff these new investigation teams.
“I know well what the stakes are for getting this done right, getting it right,” Bonta said, noting he was a co-author of the new law. “This is about standing up for all of our communities and ensuring there is trust in the process. One of the most important tasks ahead for public safety and our society is building and maintaining trust between our communities and law enforcement. Impartial, fair investigations and independent reviews of officer-involved shootings are an essential component for achieving that. We must have accountability and we must have transparency. This effort is personal for me. I’ve heard firsthand the hurt and the pain that so.”