California Police Union Loses Fight Against Deadly Force Reforms

Law enforcement unions historically have exerted deft legislative lobbying influences regardless of whether Republicans or Democrats controlled the state government.

But a California Court of Appeal this week rejected police attempts to thwart a public oversight body from banning cops’ use of carotid restraints against citizens as well as shooting at moving vehicles.

The San Francisco Police Officers’ Association asserted that the city’s police commission didn’t have the authority to make the reforms without its permission.

After trying nine times to win consensus, the San Francisco Police Commission unanimously voted to impose the reforms on Dec. 23, 2016.

On the following day, union officials applied for a temporary restraining order, which was denied.

“I think that the city is well within its authority, constitutional authority as well as city management authority, to exercise local police authority in regard to the Use of Force policy,” Superior Court Judge Newton Lam declared.

The union refused to concede and again appealed to a higher court.

But a three-justice state appellate panel wasn’t sympathetic either.

“Compelling the City to arbitrate issues surrounding the new use of force policy before it can be implemented would defeat the purpose of requiring cities to make fundamental managerial or policy decisions independently,” the court ruled on Sept. 26. “That is because it would essentially allow the [police union] to hold the policy in abeyance indefinitely by claiming the City acted in bad faith when it ended voluntary negotiations without conferring over certain unstated impacts the policy might have on police officers.”

Police union officials argue that banning carotid restraints takes away a less-than-lethal force option for officers in dangerous situations with non-compliant suspects.   

But the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California and the Bar Association of San Francisco filed amici curiae briefs in support of the city’s position.

R. Scott Moxley’s award-winning investigative journalism has touched nerves for two decades. An angry congressman threatened to break Moxley’s knee caps. A dirty sheriff promised his critical reporting was irrelevant and then landed in prison. The U.S. House of Representatives debated his work. Federal prosecutors credited his stories for the arrest of a doctor who sold fake medicine to dying patients. Moxley has won Journalist of the Year honors at the Los Angeles Press Club; been named Distinguished Journalist of the Year by the LA Society of Professional Journalists; and hailed by two New York Times Magazine writers for his “herculean job” exposing Southern California law enforcement corruption.

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