California AG announces protocols for probes of police shootings of unarmed people
The office of California Attorney General Rob Bonta (D) starting this month will investigate police shooting deaths of unarmed civilians under a bill signed into law last year.
Bonta on Wednesday released initial guidelines and protocols for implementing the measure, which was signed into law in September and went into effect July 1.
Previously, the roughly 40 to 50 fatal shootings by police each year in California have been handled by local law enforcement and district attorneys, but will now be overseen by the California Department of Justice under Bonta, who as an assembly member was a co-author on the legislation.
“One of the most important tasks ahead for public safety and our society is building and maintaining trust between our communities and law enforcement,” he said in a statement.
Bonta, who in April took over the role previously held by Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, added that “impartial, fair investigations and independent reviews of officer-involved shootings are one essential component for achieving that trust.”
“Today, California is strengthening our state’s mechanisms for accountability and transparency in investigations of officer-involved shootings,” he continued. “These cases are never going to be easy, but the California Department of Justice will follow the facts and seek to ensure every Californian is afforded equal justice under the law.”
In accordance with the new measure, the state’s Justice Department “will make public its determinations regarding potential criminal prosecutions of incidents that fall under the law’s purview — either through a written report explaining a decision not to seek criminal prosecution or by the filing of criminal charges,” Bonta’s office said Wednesday.
The attorney general on Wednesday also released five documents detailing how the new law will be put into practice, including a bulletin outlining definitions of terms such as “unarmed civilian” and “deadly weapon,” as well as the procedural guidelines for investigations into police shootings.
Probes into the shootings will be handled by the newly established California Police Shooting Investigation Teams, which Bonta’s office said are “geographically and strategically located across California in alignment with historical patterns in officer-involved shootings in the state.”
The new protocols were passed following a summer of civil unrest prompted by the police shootings of Breonna Taylor and other unarmed Black people.
According to data compiled by The Washington Post, an estimated 953 people have been shot and killed by police in the past year.