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Campos aims to curb police militarization, drones

Local police forces’ militarization would be curtailed on the ground and in the air, under bills introduced Monday by a South Bay lawmaker.

Assemblywoman Nora Campos, D-San Jose, introduced a bill that would forbid local law enforcement agencies from buying surplus military equipment without public input and approval from their local elected governing body, like a city council or a county board of supervisors.

Nora Campos“My bill is intended to help California communities and local law enforcement find the balance that is right for them. We are not a military state and our neighborhood streets shouldn’t be turned into warzones,” Campos said in a news release.

“Excessively militarizing the police isn’t necessarily in the best interest of a community,” she continued. “It does nothing to improve community relations when routine police actions, including crowd control, center on heavy military weaponry. Obviously, there are situations that require a strong law enforcement response and I will always support efforts to keep our law enforcement officers safe.”

Campos introduced another bill Monday that would require warrants for human surveillance collected by airborne drones; destruction of drone-collected data within one year; and limits on sharing that data.

“We must ensure that information collected by drones is not used against law-abiding people, and that people’s civil rights remain intact,” Campos said. “This is a common sense bill that stands on our tradition of fair treatment and justice under the law.”

The bill provides exceptions. For example, law enforcement agencies wouldn’t have to get a warrant before using a drone in response to exigent circumstances, traffic accidents, fires, environmental disasters, and searching for illegal vegetation in wilderness areas.

Gov. Jerry Brown in September vetoed another bill on this subject, AB 1327 by Assemblyman Jeff Gorell, R-Camarillo, Campos noted, but “drones are here to stay and my bill will be a vehicle for finding the right balance. I look forward to working with all the interested parties.”

Posted on Monday, December 1st, 2014
Under: Assembly, Civil liberties, Nora Campos, Public safety | 5 Comments »

SF Sheriff wants to sign inmates up for insurance

San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi wants authority to help county jail inmates submit applications for health insurance under the nation’s new law.

Mirkarimi proposes that San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors pass an ordinance to designate his department for such work. It would be one of the first county jail systems in the nation so designated.

The sheriff said many inmates have mental health problems, addictions and other chronic health problems, yet have neither health insurance nor money to pay for medical care after they’re released. Coverage provided under the state’s newly expanded Medi-Cal program for the poor, or bought with a subsidy through the Covered California insurance exchange, would aid these inmates’ re-entry into the community and “have the potential to positively affect public health and recidivism,” his news release said.

Posted on Wednesday, January 29th, 2014
Under: healthcare reform, Public safety, San Francisco politics | 2 Comments »

Bill would ban sale of license-plate reader data

Those who collect data with automatic license-plate readers would be prohibited from selling or sharing it except among law enforcement agencies, under a bill introduced Friday by a Bay Area state Senator.

“Automatic license plate reader technology is a useful tool for law enforcement,” state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, said in a news release. “But use of this technology must be balanced with personal privacy.”

Used mainly by law enforcement agencies, automatic license plate reader technology uses high-speed cameras – often mounted on police cars, but sometimes mounted at fixed points as well – along with software and criminal databases to rapidly check and track the license plates of millions of Californians. It’s also often used by private, non-law enforcement entities, such as parking and repossession companies.

But as use of this technology has increased, so has the concern of civil libertarians; current law doesn’t require LPR operators to keep the data private.

Under SB 893, data that’s less than five years old could be sold or provided only to law enforcement; data that’s more than five years old would be available to law enforcement only with a court order. Violators would be subject to civil lawsuits, with anyone affected by a privacy breach entitled to recover damages including costs and attorney’s fees.

license plate readersHill notes license-plate readers are an important law-enforcement tool: The Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department, in its first 30 days of using the technology, identified and located 495 stolen vehicles, five carjacked vehicles, and 19 other vehicles that were involved in felonies. These identifications led to 45 arrests, including some people suspected of bank robbery and home invasion.

“Law enforcement will still be able to continue to use LPR technology to catch criminals,” Hill said. “But Californians will have peace of mind that their personal information is safeguarded.”

Posted on Friday, January 10th, 2014
Under: California State Senate, Civil liberties, Jerry Hill, Public safety | 5 Comments »

Report: California condemns many, executes few

The death penalty is a very local affair, with most condemnations and executions occurring in just a tiny handful of the nation’s counties, according to a new report from a group opposing capital punishment.

The Death Penalty Information Center’s study found no California counties rank among the top 15 among the two percent of counties responsible for
over half of the executions since 1976; Texas boasts nine. The Golden State went from conducting executions at a glacial pace to conducting none at all after being stymied by a court order.

But five California counties – Los Angeles, Riverside, Orange, Alameda and San Diego – make the top 10 among the 2 percent responsible for more than half of the nation’s current death row population. California voters – despite no executions having occurred here since 2006 – keeps condemning inmates to death and last year rejected a ballot measure to abolish capital punishment. California now has 742 death-row inmates.

Posted on Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013
Under: Public safety, State Prisons | 4 Comments »

Brown signs Campos’ three domestic-violence bills

Three bills authored by a South Bay assemblywoman to protect domestic-violence victims were signed into law Monday by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Nora CamposAB 157 will make false impersonation via social media like Facebook and Twitter a trigger for restraining orders. Abusers have been known to take over their victims’ online identities to humiliate and harass their victims all over again, often isolating victims and and damaging their relationships with friends and families.

AB 161 lets courts include in restraining orders a prohibition on domestic violence abusers dropping spouses from their joint health, auto, life and disability insurance policies – something abusers often use as an intimidation tactic.

And AB 176 provides domestic violence victims the highest level of protection possible by ensuring that police enforce no-contact restraining orders even if other orders have been issued more recently.

The Assembly and state Senate both passed all three bills unanimously.

“As much as we’ve done to help women escape the horror of domestic violence, much work needs to be done,” Assemblywoman Nora Campos, the bills’ author, said in her news release. “Too many women continue to get beaten by their partners, and they suffer even further pain when their abuser exploits social media to target their victims or cancels joint insurance policies.”

“These bills will add protections to women who face abuse in their homes and hopefully begin to turn the tide around on domestic violence,” said Campos, D-San Jose.

Posted on Monday, September 9th, 2013
Under: Assembly, Nora Campos, Public safety | 4 Comments »

Assembly passes drug sentencing reform bill

The Assembly approved a bill Wednesday that would reform California’s sentencing laws for simple drug possession, a move supporters say would reduce costly jail populations, get more people into rehab and let authorities focus on more serious crimes.

SB 649 by state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, would give county prosecutors flexibility to charge low-level, nonviolent drug crimes either as misdemeanors or felonies – making them what’s known as “wobblers.” It also would give judges discretion to deem a non-violent drug possession offense to be either a misdemeanor or felony after consideration of the offense and the defendant’s record.

This wouldn’t apply to anyone involved in selling, manufacturing or possessing drugs for sale. SB 649 now returns to the Senate for a concurrence vote before heading for Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk.

Mark Leno“We know we can reduce crime by offering low-level offenders rehabilitation and the opportunity to successfully reenter their communities, but we are currently doing the opposite,” Leno said in a news release Wednesday.

“We give non-violent drug offenders long terms, offer them no treatment while they’re incarcerated, and then release them back into the community with few job prospects or options to receive an education,” he said. “SB 649 gives local governments the flexibility to choose reduced penalties so that they can reinvest in proven alternatives that benefit minor offenders and reserve limited jail space for serious criminals.”

The Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates reduced penalties for drug possession will save counties about $159 million per year. Leno notes that 13 states, the District of Columbia and the federal government treat drug possession as a misdemeanor, but don’t have higher drug-crime rates.

Though introduced earlier, the bill moves California in the same direction as the new federal policy U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced last month in San Francisco: Federal prosecutors will stop seeking longer mandatory sentences for many nonviolent drug offenders, part of a broad new effort to focus on violent crimes and national security while reducing the nation’s gigantic prison population.

Margaret Dooley-Sammuli – senior criminal justice and drug policy advocate for the ACLU of California, which is among the bill’s sponsors – said Wednesday that SB 649 “is just the kind of common sense solution to California’s incarceration crisis that voters have been demanding, and the legislature deserves credit for choosing to be smart on crime.”

“Felony sentences don’t reduce drug use and don’t persuade users to seek treatment, but instead, impose tremendous barriers to housing, education and employment after release – three things we know help keep people out of our criminal justice system and successfully reintegrating into their families and communities,” said Lynne Lyman, state director of the Drug Policy Alliance, another sponsor of the bill. “I was heartened to see some Assembly Republicans standing in favor, or at least not opposed, to this common sense solution.”

Posted on Wednesday, September 4th, 2013
Under: Assembly, California State Senate, Mark Leno, Public safety | 2 Comments »

Oakland & Sac mayors met with Obama today

Oakland’s Jean Quan and Sacramento’s Kevin Johnson were among 18 U.S. mayors who met with President Barack Obama and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder today at the White House to discuss strategies to reduce youth violence.

According to the White House’s readout of the meeting, Obama “reiterated that government alone can never fill the void that causes a child to turn to violence, but that we all have a responsibility to do our part to create safe communities and save lives.”

“The President applauded the mayors for their local efforts to combat violence, solicited their input about proven methods, and pledged his Administration’s partnership,” the White House reported. “He also vowed to continue doing everything in his power to combat gun violence through executive action and to press Congress to pass common-sense reforms like expanding the background check system and cracking down on gun trafficking.”

For the complete list of mayors at today’s meeting, follow after the jump.
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Tuesday, August 27th, 2013
Under: Jean Quan, Oakland, Obama presidency, Public safety | 3 Comments »

Surveillance: Drones, drugs & ‘Domain Awareness’

On the domestic surveillance news front today: The Assembly Public Safety Committee will hold a hearing tomorrow, Tuesday, Aug. 6, on domestic use of drones.

Among those scheduled to testify are Professor YangQuan Chen of the UC Merced School of Engineering; Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean; CalFire Deputy Director Andy McMurry; TerrAvion founder and CEO Robert Morris; Professor Elizabeth Joh of the UC Davis School of Law; Linda Lye, attorney with the ACLU of Northern California; and Jennifer Lynch, attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The hearing is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. to noon, and the public can listen online.

“The Public Safety Committee has been called upon this session to evaluate some bills involving the use of drones,” committee chairman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, said in a news release. “However, it’s such a new subject; we need to develop a base of knowledge and a context for making decisions on these important bills.”

Also, Reuters reports today that a secretive U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration unit – operating in tandem with the FBI, CIA, NSA, Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Homeland Security – is funneling information from intelligence intercepts, wiretaps, informants and a massive database of telephone records to authorities across the nation to help them launch criminal investigations of Americans.

And, I was on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California” on Friday night to discuss Oakland’s controversial decision to expand its public video surveillance:

It was a lively discussion, but I wish I’d had a chance to delve into other topics such as how Oakland and other cities share the intelligence they gather with a regional “fusion center” located in a federal building in San Francisco; varying policies on how long such video footage is retained; and how easy it is for cities with extensive video surveillance networks to later add in software such as facial-recognition programs. I touched on some of these topics in a story I co-authored in June.

Posted on Monday, August 5th, 2013
Under: Assembly, Civil liberties, national security, Oakland, Public safety, Tom Ammiano | No Comments »

April 30 hearing on bills to speed death penalty

Hot from having successfully opposed last year’s ballot measure to abolish California’s death penalty, prosecutors now are pushing legislation to put condemned inmates to death faster.

The two bills by state Sen. Joel Anderson, R-El Cajon, and sponsored by the California District Attorneys Association, will be heard next Tuesday, April 30 by the state Senate Public Safety Committee.

San Quentin's death chamber“Removing unnecessary impediments to carrying out the punishment meted out by judges and juries will ensure timely justice,” Anderson said in a news release. “It is clear that the death penalty needs reforming when condemned inmates are often living longer on death row than their victims did their entire lives.”

SB 779 makes various reforms including speeding up the appointment of appellate counsel and certification of the record, which under current law can take years. SCA 13 would let California’s appellate courts hear death penalty appeals; for now, only the state Supreme Court hears them, creating a legal bottleneck.

CDAA last year opposed Proposition 34, which would have repealed the death penalty; the initiative was rejected by 52 percent of voters in November. The initiative’s supporters had argued in part that capital punishment is too costly for the state to afford, given the many years of legal wrangling and special incarceration that it requires.

“Prosecutors seek justice and stand for victims,” CDAA president Carl Adams said in the news release. “Regardless of the fate of these two bills, CDAA will continue to carry this banner and hold the state to its promise to appropriately punish the worst offenders.”

California now has 733 condemned inmates. It has executed 14 since reinstating the death penalty in 1978, with the last of those in January 2006. A federal judge later that year found the state’s lethal-injection procedure was unconstitutional because it might cause the inmate pain; new regulations were enacted in 2010 but have never been used.

Posted on Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013
Under: California State Senate, Public safety, State Prisons | No Comments »

Battle looming over ‘zero tolerance’ drug DUI bill

Sparks might fly as lawmakers later this month hear a bill that would make it illegal to drive with any detectable trace of marijuana or other illegal drugs in the blood, regardless of the driver’s actual impairment.

Marijuana advocates say this “zero tolerance” bill, to be heard April 23 by the state Senate Public Safety Committee, overlooks the fact that driving impairment can’t be determined by the presence of marijuana compounds in the blood.

Unlike alcohol, THC blood levels have no direct relation to the actual dosage consumed or active in the body, they say. Instead, levels spike right after smoking but then decline quickly to lower levels within an hour or so regardless of dosage, and can remain in the blood anywhere from eight to 12 hours in occasional users and six days or more in regular users – including those who use it medicinally – long after any impairment has faded.

“In effect, SB 289 is equivalent to calling drivers DUI if they’ve had a glass of beer or wine in the past few hours, or left an empty bottle in their trash,” California NORML Director Dale Gieringer said in a news release. “The science is clear that driving impairment can’t be determined by the presence of marijuana in the blood.”

But SB 289’s author, state Sen. Lou Correa, says California lacks any threshold for judging drugged driving.

“Driving under the influence of illegal drugs is dangerous and cannot be tolerated,” Correa, D-Santa Ana, said in a news release when he introduced the bill in February. “Creating a zero tolerance drugged driving policy will equip law enforcement with the tools needed to keep our communities and roads safe.”

In most states, a driver is guilty of driving under the influence if the state proves the driver was actually impaired at the time of arrest. But under SB 289, California would join 17 other states which have made it illegal to drive a vehicle if the driver’s blood contains any detectable amount of Schedule I, II, III or IV drugs.

Correa’s news release noted the bill excludes medicine used with a valid prescription issued by a licensed health care practitioner. Californians voted in 1996 to legalize marijuana for medicinal use, but it remains on Schedule 1 of the federal Controlled Substances Act – the most restrictive category for controlled substances, encompassing drugs defined as having a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use, and a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision.

Correa’s bill is co-sponsored by the California State Sheriffs’ Association, California Police Chiefs Association, California Narcotics Officers Association and International Faith Based Coalition.

Posted on Tuesday, April 9th, 2013
Under: marijuana, Public safety | 1 Comment »