Fatal police shootings of unarmed people will now be investigated by the state, according to new guidelines released by California Attorney General Rob Bonta. The law is not retroactive, and goes into effect this month.
The new guidelines are being welcomed by civil rights advocates, calling it a major change that will make investigations of controversial shootings more transparent. But there are doubts that the new guidelines will work justly in reality.
Until now, officer-involved shootings that became deadly have been handled primarily by local law enforcement and county district attorneys. Critics say that process has been problematic because the investigating agencies are too close and personal with the subjects of their investigations.
“What we saw with AB1506 is a very well-meaning, I’m sure, legislator say, ‘what can we do to make it more just?’” Melina Abdullah, a Cal State L.A. professor who co-founded Black Lives Matter Los Angeles. “And it was recognizing that the DA relies on policing units in virtually every other case, and so they’re usually in bed together to a degree. What we really need is independent investigations.”
Claremont-McKenna College professor of politics, Jack Pitney, says both state and local law enforcement will proceed cautiously at first.
“Controversy is inevitable. Officer-involved shootings are inherently fraught with high emotion, controversy,” he said. “And this pits local police departments and district attorney offices in potential conflict with the state.”
Noted Los Angeles civil rights attorney Connie Rice is firmly in favor of the new law.
“I think what this bill will do is it will take the local relationships that kind of make it hard to go after officers who should be gone after criminally – makes it hard to do,” Rice said. “You know, prosecutors need police officers to testify in their cases. And even with the local prosecutors that are assigned to prosecute local cops – guess who their investigators are? They come from the departments. Same departments.”