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New California Law Changes How Fatal Police Shootings Of Unarmed People Are Investigated

A San Diego police car parked in downtown San Diego, Oct. 24, 2018.
Susan Murphy
A San Diego police car parked in downtown San Diego, Oct. 24, 2018.
For years, law enforcement agencies investigated when an officer shot and killed an unarmed suspect, and district attorneys decided on charges. Until now.

Like any major American city, San Diego has had its share of officer-involved shootings that result in the death of an unarmed person. But a new law, Assembly Bill 1506, changes the way those fatal shootings are processed.

“We must have accountability and we must have transparency," said California Attorney General Rob Bonta in a Wednesday morning news conference.

New California Law Changes How Fatal Police Shootings Of Unarmed People Are Investigated
Listen to this story by John Carroll

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For Bonta, AB 1506 is personal. He co-authored the legislation when he was in the Assembly.

Bonta said it’s all about building trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve, especially communities of color.

“Impartial, fair investigations and independent reviews of officer-involved shootings are an essential component for achieving that,” he said.

San Diego civil rights attorney Genevieve Jones-Wright thinks the new law is just what is needed.

“I think it will make a huge difference on the building of trust in the community as well as actual justice," she said.

Jones-Wright told KPBS she thinks San Diego District Attorney Summer Stephan will welcome the state involvement.

We reached out to the DA’s office a few times on Wednesday, but we didn’t get a response.

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VIDEO: New California Law Changes How Fatal Police Shootings Of Unarmed People Are Investigated

And, though Jones-Wright said the DA’s public statements will probably be positive, she also said the proof will be in the pudding.

“Will the DA’s office actually change the way that they pursue justice or not pursue justice in other cases involving law enforcement?” she wondered.

Two investigative teams are now in place, one in Sacramento and one in Los Angeles. They will immediately be called in when an officer shoots and kills an unarmed person.

Then, the Department of Justice will issue a decision one way or the other, “Either through a written report explaining why charges are not appropriate, or we will file criminal charges," Bonta said.

The Attorney General said he expects 40 to 50 incidents every year requiring state involvement. He says the investigative teams are on the ground now, and ready to go.