County supervisors could increase their oversight of sheriffs under one of several pending legislative proposals that gained momentum Friday in the wake of national unrest after the death in May of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.
California lawmakers will also vote on bills banning the use of carotid restraints and choke holds by police and limiting their use of rubber bullets and tear gas against peaceful protesters.
Other more controversial measures to end the careers of officers with troubled histories, allow independent investigations in shootings by police, and make public more police misconduct records also were set for consideration before the Legislature adjourns for the year on Monday.
“We’re in the midst of a global outcry to increase the level of accountability from our peace officers,” Democratic Sen. Holly Mitchell said of the sheriff oversight measure. “This bill will go a long way to create much needed transparency by sheriffs.”
The bill would make it clear that supervisors have the power to create oversight boards and inspectors general with subpoena powers over independently elected county sheriffs.
Mitchell cited sheriffs in Los Angeles, Sacramento and other counties who have refused to cooperate with supervisors or inspectors general, but the bill was delayed last year when it lacked support.
Republicans said Democrats who overwhelmingly control the Legislature were simply enshrining in state law powers that already exist at the county level.
“Why are we creating this if the powers already exist, and I believe they do?” said GOP Sen. Andreas Borgeas. “We are basically putting out window dressing without any real substance. And I think that ultimately is bad policy, because I think it’s being done in a heated, intense political climate where we have to be shown as doing something.”
The measure passed the Senate on a 27-11 roll call and returns to the Assembly for a final vote.
A second bill would create a pilot program to have qualified community organizations respond to mental health calls and similar cases currently handled by police.
Democratic Sen. Scott Wiener said responses by armed police can often escalate problems, leading to violence. The bill would require the state to issue an unspecified number of grants worth a minimum of $250,000 to community intervention groups for three years and track the results.
It “empowers groups that have a demonstrated track record that they can protect their communities without guns, while freeing the police to focus on issues more suited to law enforcement training,” Wiener said.
The bill passed the Senate on a 35-2 vote and returns to the Assembly.