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California Attorney General Calls For Police Reform In The State

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The attorney general of California is the latest elected official to call for police reform in his state. Xavier Becerra urged local law enforcement agencies to adopt a laundry list of new rules and regulations designed to reduce the potential for police brutality; things like a ban on chokeholds, new use-of-force standards, a prohibition on officers firing on moving vehicles and new training for police dogs. Bark first, bite later. Attorney General Becerra joins us now.

Welcome.

XAVIER BECERRA: Ailsa, thank you.

CHANG: So tell me, why now? I mean, California has had many high-profile cases of excessive force, of police brutality. You have been attorney general of this state since 2017. Why wait until now to push all of these changes?

BECERRA: Well, today we made the announcement of a list of proposals that we hope will be adopted either by agencies through their own actions or through the legislature or perhaps through local governments ordinances. But this is not something new. We've - most of the various proposals that we have put forward today we put forward 18 months ago when we did a report reviewing the actions of the Sacramento Police Department. And what we're doing here is trying to re-up them so people are aware that there are reforms that have not yet been totally implemented that we should.

CHANG: And you are saying that these are just initial steps, that there is a lot more to do. So tell me, what other steps do you plan to be pushing for after this?

BECERRA: Well, we're hoping that many of the items that we have proposed will be taken up by the legislature. Some don't need to have statutes. They can be done directly by law enforcement agencies. And so what we're hoping is that what we can do is start the process of implementing some of the reforms, many of them, as I said, that we had proposed a year-and-a-half ago but that have clearly shown that with best practices, we can improve policing. And we can make it safer for everyone.

CHANG: Now, short of the legislature passing some of these proposals into law, you are now urging local police departments to adopt these guidelines. As state attorney general, to what extent can you mandate these changes now? Or for now, is all of this just optional?

BECERRA: The good thing is that many of those reforms that we had proposed 18 months ago were eventually adopted in statute through a bill, SB 230 here in California, last year. And so those - some of those reforms will take effect as requirements beginning January 1, 2021. I'm hoping I can actually encourage some of my colleagues in law enforcement and local law enforcement to adopt those a little earlier than January 1, 2021. Many agencies are moving in that direction, and some will be ready beforehand. So why not start now instead of wait till January 1? And so we're trying to make sure that we move where we can on our own. My own law enforcement agency, the division of law enforcement here at the Department of Justice, has implemented most of the reforms that I've mentioned or we're on track to implement them. And so I'm hoping that we can encourage other agencies to do this. And certainly, there'll be things that we have to do through the legislature.

CHANG: Let me ask you about a more aggressive step. Many activists right now are calling to defund the police. Their argument is, you know, the only way to achieve reform is to take money away from the police and give it to other parts of the government better suited to deal with things like homelessness, mental health, education. Where do you stand on that, on shifting resources away from police to cause real change?

BECERRA: Well, there's a reality here that police are not trained to do social work or mental health work. At the same time there's a reality that when people contact local authorities about homeless individuals or homeless camps or anything dealing with homelessness, they tend to use 911. And typically, when you call 911, a dispatcher is going to send a police cruiser to respond. And so more often than not...

CHANG: All right.

BECERRA: ...Men and women in uniform don't have a choice. They must respond...

CHANG: Right.

BECERRA: ...To calls from dispatchers. And so they are the ones...

CHANG: OK.

BECERRA: ...that are typically the first responders. I don't think there's any doubt - and most police officers will tell you that if you're trying to deal with the situation of police maybe shouldn't be the first ones that are approached. But they are.

CHANG: Xavier Becerra is the state attorney general of California.

Thank you very much for joining us. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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