SACRAMENTO–Nearly two hundred ACLU members and allies rallied at the steps of the Capitol alongside state Senator Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) today in support of legislation to curb police abuse in California, specifically Senate Bill 443 (Mitchell) and Senate Bill 1286 (Leno).

“Police abuse can take many forms,” said Norma Chavez-Peterson, Executive Director of the ACLU of San Diego and Imperial Counties. “And when these injustices continue – be it policing for profit or law enforcement judging the unnecessary killings of unarmed people of color behind closed doors – California should be leading the charge to ensure that our state laws reflect our American values of fairness, justice and transparency.”

Policing for Profit

SB 443, introduced by Senator Mitchell and boasting bipartisan support in the Legislature, would protect innocent Californians from unfair forfeitures by forbidding law enforcement from permanently taking and keeping someone’s money or property if that person is not convicted of a crime. For years, California law enforcement agencies have taken advantage of a loophole that allows them to take innocent people’s cash and property, and then keep a portion of the profits through civil asset forfeiture laws.

In describing the need for SB 443, Senator Mitchell stated, “The law puts a ‘finders-keepers’ tag on certain possessions of those accused of crime, which doesn’t have to come off even when the accusation is dropped. Time for a new tag: ‘No conviction – No confiscation!’”

The bill was welcomed by Bob Alexander, a Lakeport, California, resident and veteran who was stopped and had over $10,000 in cash taken from him by law enforcement – money he was carrying to buy his daughter a car. He fought to get it back, but it took nearly eight months to do so although no criminal charges were filed against him.

“That was a fight,” said Alexander. “The officers tried to scare me into submission by giving me two choices: I either said the money wasn’t mine and they would ‘call it a day’ or I told the truth and they’d slap three felonies on me. I was able to put up a fight, but I know other people might not have the means to do so.”

Judging Police Misconduct and Use of Force in Secret

SB 1286, introduced by Senator Mark Leno, would restore police transparency in California by shining light on how police departments handle investigations into officer misconduct and serious uses of force. Unlike other public employees, all records related to police discipline are completely confidential and exempt from California’s Public Records Act. As a result, departments cannot disclose when an officer is guilty of misconduct, if corrective action was taken, or what the corrective action was.

Brandy Brown, a member of the Youth Justice Coalition, a youth-led organization co-sponsoring SB 1286, urged the bill’s passing. Brown had been friends with Ezell Ford, an unarmed Black man who was shot and killed by Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officers in 2014. On the day Ford was killed, both Brandy's then 1-year-old daughter and her 4-year-old nephew were outside on the balcony and saw the police shooting of Ezell not far from where they were playing.

“Senate Bill 1286 is important because we need to know the background of the people who are patrolling our neighborhoods,” said Brown. “We must pass the bill, because we are fighting for a day when we as young people of color will not be feared, hated, stopped and cuffed, locked up, locked down and locked out. We are fighting for a day when California will not lead the nation in police shootings, for a day when ‘to protect and serve’ doesn’t mean to protect property and serve the rich.”

Supporters of the bill, including Sacramento’s Black Lives Matter chapter agreed.

“I support SB 1286 because our law enforcement agencies need to aggressively make an effort to regain the trust of communities of color. A huge step toward this is restoring transparency into police misconduct and use of force investigations. Because without transparency, police will never be fully accountable to the communities they serve. And without accountability, there is not trust,” said Tanya Faison, founder of Black Lives Matter Sacramento.

SB 443 is currently pending on the Assembly floor. The bill is co-sponsored by the ACLU of California, CHIRLA, the Drug Policy Alliance, the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, and the Institute for Justice.

SB 1286 is scheduled to for a hearing in the Senate Public Safety Committee on Tuesday, April 12, 2016. The bill is co-sponsored by the ACLU of California, the California Newspaper Publishers Association, CURYJ, PICO California, and the Youth Justice Coalition.