Trust, accountability, and transparency are needed to improve the relationship between communities of color and law enforcement, said California Attorney General Rob Bonta.
Based on historical data, about 40 to 50 times a year, an officer-involved shooting ends in the death of an unarmed civilian in the state of California, revealed Bonta. Those cases will now require independent investigations by the California Department of Justice.
“Many communities of color have experienced a loss of trust in law enforcement,” said Bonta, who was sworn in as California Attorney General in April. “The goal is to strengthen the trust between communities and law enforcement.”
To begin to repair that relationship with the community, Bonta held a virtual news conference on July 7 to share new guidelines and protocols for the implementation of Assembly Bill 1506, which now requires the California Department of Justice to independently investigate all incidents of deadly officer-involved shootings that kill unarmed civilians in California.
AB 1506 formally establishes California Police Shooting investigation teams to handle qualifying incidents. Historically, these types of deadly shootings have been primarily investigated by local law enforcement and district attorneys.
Regardless of circumstances, it is always a tragedy when an unarmed civilian is shot and killed by a law enforcement officer in California. Often, these critical incidents are investigated but end in mistrust, particularly in communities of color, where families of victims do not feel like they have received justice.
“You can’t have trust, without accountability,” Bonta continued.
AB 1506 is part of a push by state lawmakers to usher in police reform and accountability. It was signed into law in September 2020 in the wake of America’s so-called racial reckoning after the murder of George Floyd, the shooting death of Breonna Taylor, and countless others that have or have not made the headlines.
“I know well what the stakes are for getting this right,” Bonta said.
Bonta, who co-authored AB 1506 in 2019 as a member of the California State Assembly, said this is about “transparency and accountability” as he has witnessed the lack of trust that many residents have when it comes to deadly officer-involved shootings.
“This is a responsibility that we take very seriously,” Bonta added.
Investigation teams with special agents will be based in Sacramento and Los Angeles. They began operations on July 1. Investigators will make their determinations and Bonta’s office will ultimately decide if criminal charges will be filed against officers involved in deadly shootings of unarmed civilians.
However, when criminal charges are not filed, the California Department of Justice will share a written report with the public about the following:
• A statement of facts, as revealed by the investigation;
• An analysis of those facts in light of applicable law;
• An explanation of why it was determined that criminal charges were not appropriate; and
• Where applicable, recommendations to modify the policies and practices of the involved law enforcement agency.
Meanwhile, during ongoing investigations, as is standard procedure, the information provided to the public will admittedly be limited.
However, Bonta believes the implementation of AB 1506 will increase faith in law enforcement with thorough and independent investigators from special agents from the California Department of Justice, instead of local police and sheriff’s departments.