Vargas: An overview of rash of bills aimed at police reform being introduced in Sacramento


I recently had a long conversation with a columnist about the rash of bills being introduced in Sacramento related to police reform. Generally, I don’t see how any of the legislation really will impact the everyday officer just trying to do the best job he or she can in today’s hyper-vigilant environment.

AB 953 seeks to address issues related to racial profiling and requiring additional data collection on all officer contacts.

AB 619 would require all agencies to submit more detailed information on use-of-force incidents, including demographic information. The department of justice then would prepare an annual report for public consumption. I really feel this a positive step in understanding police use of force from a more global perspective.

As with any demographic reporting, it’s the interpretation and analysis of the data that is critical. AB 619 also would create a whole new level of bureaucratic paperwork and employees to ensure compliance.

SB 227 would change the role of the grand jury in criminal investigations. Basically, the grand jury could investigate everything from political corruption to murder but would be prohibited from convening in cases related to police shootings or use of excessive force. Apparently they can’t be trusted either.

AB 86 is calling for an independent prosecutor appointed by the California Attorney General in all fatal officer-involved shootings. The understanding is that local prosecutors have too many ties to law enforcement and can’t be trusted.

SB 11 and SB 29 both are looking at requiring training for officers in handling the mentally ill. It’s something most agencies are already doing. Specifically, the bill is calling for 40 hours of training for field training officers and four hours of continuing education training for officers every year. New officers would be required to undergo 20 hours of additional field training in dealing with the mentally ill.

AB 1118 is an interesting bill. It would establish the Procedural Justice Task Force in order to implement and oversee procedural justice training for law enforcement agencies. Procedural justice is an academic term for doing good police work that focuses on fairness and respect. It sounds great, but the bill itself doesn’t really fully address the deliverables. It will, of course, involve more training and the creation of yet another task force.

Probably most of these will be passed in some form or another because I don’t really see a downside to the average cop on the street. Besides, any pushback would be construed as resistance to change and portrayed negatively.

There definitely is a challenge for police executives who will be tasked with trying to provide and implement any legislated training.

In addition to any legislatively mandated training, there always is ongoing training. These include perishable skills (shooting, driving, arrest control techniques), job- specific training (homicide, traffic, theft, sex crimes, etc.), and agency-specific training (policies, procedures, software, etc.). This training is ongoing and at times difficult to achieve given the number of hours available to do it.

Every hour of mandated training means less time on the streets, investigating cases or engaging with the community. Add that up by the number of officers in California and that’s a lot of hours.

I have strong doubts that any of the legislation will include agency reimbursement for costs associated with providing the training.

You still have to put a cop on the street every day and that requires backfill overtime every time training is required. That doesn’t come cheap. There’s somewhere around 100,000 law enforcement officers in California. But in the eyes of the legislature, it will be well worth the cost in order to establish trust with communities.

In the end, the real challenge for all police officers is to establish trusting relationships with the communities they police. Those relationships are most critical in those communities where police officers are most needed.

Having thousands of police officers sitting in a classroom and filling out demographic data reports may help, but it won’t accomplish the same thing as the cop who gets out of his or her car and connects with people. That’s the most impactful reform all police officers need to work on.

Joe is a retired Anaheim Police Department captain. You can reach him at