California Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Alameda, plans to introduce legislation that would prevent elected prosecutors from investigating police misconduct if they’ve accepted campaign funds from law-enforcement unions, Bonta announced Thursday.
The forthcoming bill will be the first piece of legislation sponsored by the Prosecutors Alliance of California, a new progressive district attorney lobbying organization aimed at combating the traditionally tough-on-crime police and prosecutor associations. The alliance’s founding members include current San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin and his predecessor, George Gascón, who is running for Los Angeles County district attorney.
“This is about trust in law enforcement, and trust in the independence of our elected prosecutors,” Bonta said in a statement. “As people … demand greater justice, we must cure the conflict of interest that gives, at minimum, the appearance that police are not held accountable due to the proximity and political influence of law enforcement associations and unions.”
All four of the prosecutors who are executive committee members of the alliance have vowed not to take funding from law-enforcement unions. They additionally include Contra Costa County District Attorney Diana Becton and San Joaquin County District Attorney Tori Verber Salazar.
The legislation follows a summer of impassioned protests in California and nationwide over police killings of Black people, and what many say is a lack of accountability among those sworn to protect and serve. Part of that lacking accountability, reform advocates argue, stems from the perceived coziness between police and prosecutors, breeding an inability or unwillingness on the part of some district attorneys to investigate alleged police misconduct.
The bill likely will be opposed by at least some police unions. In a statement released shortly after the announcement, San Francisco Police Officers Association Vice President Tracy McCray said the legislation would try to “restrict the free speech of union members,” and called into question the prosecutors alliance’s own political fundraising.
Barry Donelan, president of the Oakland Police Officers Association, ehoed McCray’s criticism.
“If passed, this draft legislation would silence the voices of thousands of officers — men and women who risk their lives every day to keep our families and communities safe,” Donelan said, adding that the measure was a “slippery slope.”
“What’s next?” he continued. “Should we force local school board members to recuse themselves from decisions involving a teacher because the teacher’s union contributed to that school board member’s campaign?”
When an officer uses deadly force, it’s most often the county’s top prosecutor who is responsible for investigating, and potentially charging the case. But because the district attorney is an elected office, candidates often seek campaign endorsements and contributions from deep-pocketed law-enforcement groups, creating what many say is an inherent conflict of interest.
In such instances, Bonta’s proposal would have the state attorney general’s office step in to investigate alleged misconduct.
“Now, more than ever, prosecutors have the responsibility to promote equal justice and build trust with the communities we serve,” Boudin said in a statement. “It is only when prosecutors are not financially beholden to law enforcement unions that the public can be confident in the decisions prosecutors make about holding police officers accountable.”
The same prosecutors are also asking the State Bar to create a similar rule, which would outright preclude prosecutors from accepting police union contributions. State Bar officials are scheduled to discuss this topic on Friday.
Supporters of the proposed bill say it would not prevent prosecutors from accepting law-enforcement donations, but require those who do to step aside when an officer in their jurisdiction is suspected of misconduct. In these cases, supporters said, the California attorney general’s office would be asked to take the case.
“This will help reassure family members, community stakeholders and the public that decisions are made based on the facts and the law, not political horse trading and back scratching,” bill supporters said in a statement.
Megan Cassidy is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: email@example.com Twitter: meganrcassidy
Published at Fri, 23 Oct 2020 07:17:00 +0000