Risk-limiting audits: did your vote count?

This action originally appeared in the Indivisible East Bay newsletter on June 14, 2018. At that time, the deadline to make a call was Monday June 18; we will update as the status changes.

June 19 update

  • Thank you for all your calls and letters — it’s working! Today, AB 2125 was heard in the Senate Elections Committee. The courtroom was packed. Just prior to the hearing, negotiations about troublesome provisions in the bill resumed in an attempt to salvage it. Author Quirk offered another set of amendments to satisfy some of the most important provisions that were previously lacking in the bill:

    • The audits will be based on paper ballots
    • Audits will include Vote-by-Mail and provisional ballots
    • Secretary of State to write regulations on public verifiability

Though not yet written up by legislative counsel, these amendments were read aloud to all in the courtroom. The bill passed committee: 3 – 0 – 2 abstain.

As amended, AB 2125 sunsets in 2021, essentially making it a pilot bill. Advocates for election security and transparency are cautiously optimistic that a workable pilot bill may result. There are still kinks to be worked out (especially because it is voluntary for counties as amended today) so please stay tuned. We may need to put up our dukes one more time before this reaches the Senate floor.

Again, thank you. Nothing is more important to democracy than the accuracy and transparency of our vote totals. You did this. You prevented damaging election legislation from becoming law. Now buckle your seat belt.

June 18 update: Please keep the calls coming in today! Crucial vote on the integrity of our vote-counting audits is happening Tuesday June 19 at 1:30 PM. Can you join us and CA Clean Money to help pack the hearing room? Here is our joint letter explaining problems with the bill.

If you can’t come to Sacramento, please sign this coalition petition urging the Senate Elections Committee to vote “NO” on AB 2125 unless it’s amended. We need election audits but they must be transparent and accurate — AB 2125 is not there yet!

California vote-audit bill falls short

Vote vote vote! But — how do you know it was counted? In 2017 California enacted AB 840, exempting many vote-by-mail and all provisional ballots from audit. Security experts agree: to determine whether election outcomes are correct, we need risk-limiting audits (RLAs) which hand count a small sample of paper ballots, then expand as needed. AB 2125, headed for a crucial hearing in the CA Senate on Tuesday 6/19, nominally requires RLAs but has no teeth. Please tell the Senate Elections and Constitutional Amendments Committee: We need state-of-the-art post-election audits to protect our democracy from cyberattacks. Why would we settle for less?

What to say:

My name is ___, I’m a California resident and a member of Indivisible East Bay. I want our election outcomes to be verifiable and I strongly support risk-limiting audit legislation. But I oppose AB 2125 because the bill doesn’t meet best standards agreed upon by experts. California should lead with a model risk-limiting audit that makes our elections trustworthy. I ask Senator _____ to oppose AB 2125.

Senator Harry Stern, Chair
Phone: (916) 651-4027

Senator Joel Anderson, Vice Chair
Phone: (916) 651-4038

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State Legislature Vote-a-rama

Indivisible East Bay supported several California Assembly and Senate bills pending in the June 2018 session. The legislature has voted, and here are the results:

Law Enforcement:

  • AB 3131 Law enforcement agencies, military equipment, funding, acquisition, and use: passed Assembly. See our articles here and here for more info
  • SB 1421 Peace officers, release of records: passed Senate. See our article for more info

Voting & Elections:

Other:

Want to work on state issues and legislation with the Indivisible East Bay state issues team? Email info@indivisibleeb.org or join the #ca_state_issues channel on IEB Slack.

The California Legislative Process Demystified, graphic © Indivisible California StateStrong

 

IEB Meets With State Asm. Thurmond’s Staff

On May 29, Indivisible East Bay members Nick, Amelia, Ted, Melanie, and Mark met with Molly Curley O’Brien from State Assemblymember Tony Thurmond’s (AD15) office in downtown Oakland. IEB’s first-ever meeting with Thurmond’s staff was a positive experience.

We had sent Molly a memo beforehand listing the topics and state bills we wanted to talk about and to find out Thurmond’s positions. But first we asked a general question — why the Democrats didn’t use their super-majority advantage last year to push through more progressive legislation. Molly explained that negotiating between moderates and more progressive members was often tricky, with the worry that moderates would flip support to the GOP and doom more progressive legislation; this unfortunate dynamic illustrates why it’s so important for Indivisible groups to take an active role in holding Democrats accountable at the state level and electing progressives wherever possible.

Schools and Students

We began by discussing Thurmond’s support for AB-1502 (Free or Reduced Lunch Direct Certification) and AB-1871 (Charter schools: free and reduced price meals). These bills would provide crucial meals to low-income and poor students in both public and charter schools, and reflect Thurmond’s ongoing work to support students in California’s education system. We thanked him for these positions, which align with our progressive values; Molly was happy to hear our thanks, and it set a good tone for the rest of the meeting.

Stating that Thurmond believes our schools need more resources, Molly mentioned that he would like to tax private prisons to provide resources for public schools, especially for LGBTQ students. She also noted that Thurmond wants to find a solution for the lack of affordable housing for teachers.

After Molly mentioned that Thurmond’s priority focus on education is “his bread and butter,” we asked her to make sure that he remembers to support small school districts and their teachers’ associations, not just larger ones in major metro area. 

Criminal Justice and Policing

We turned to the topic of criminal justice and policing, particularly AB-3131. Introduced by Assembly members Gloria and Chiu, AB-3131 is co-sponsored by Indivisible CA: State Strong, the ACLU, the Anti Police-Terror Project, and others. It  would provide for civilian oversight of local police forces’ efforts to purchase excess military equipment, which is a newly allowed practice under the Trump administration. Molly said that the principles of this bill align with Thurmond’s values, and gave us hope that he would vote Aye on it in a floor vote.

Voting Rights and Election Infrastructure

We wrapped up the meeting with a discussion of voting rights and election infrastructure, including AB-3115 (Jails: Voter Education), AB-2165 (Election Day holiday), AB-2188 (Social Media DISCLOSE Act), and AB-2125 (Risk-Limiting Audits). The IEB expert on these issues, Melanie (the lead for our Voter Rights and Election Integrity team), began by describing the problems we’ve had trying to help with voter education and registration in jails, to illustrate why passing AB-3115 is so important.

We also talked about unintended negative effects of the Voters Choice Act, recent closures of neighborhood precincts, and the need to keep polling locations open and improve – rather than restrict – access to the polls. Melanie asked whether Thurmond could help move AB-2165 out of submission so it could get a floor vote this week in the Assembly, so Election Day would be declared a holiday, showing our commitment to voter engagement and civic participation.

On AB-2188, we explained that a technical ruling had exempted social media from last year’s DISCLOSE Act, which requires political ad transparency, and urged Thurmond to support AB-2188  to help prevent a repeat in future elections of undue influence by Facebook, Cambridge Analytica, and others.

Finally, Melanie tackled a complex subject — Risk-Limiting Audits (RLA). She highlighted the importance of AB-2125, the RLA legislation currently moving through the Assembly, especially in light of AB-840, enacted last fall, which weakened our 1% manual vote tally by exempting late-arriving and provisional ballots. To impress on Molly the critical need for AB-2125 to be amended before it goes to the Senate, Melanie mentioned the UC Berkeley statistics expert who invented risk-limiting audits (Philip Stark), and explained that Stark’s and other election security experts’ proposals don’t line up with current language in the bill. She asked how Thurmond might help, including whether he could let it be known he’s aware that corrections are needed, and to push for a timely amendment. Melanie clarified that although California should begin using risk-limiting audits, AB-2125 must be amended to follow best practices, and we want to see a bill we can support before it goes to the Senate.

We asked for Thurmond to familiarize himself with these bills and others, and Molly seemed confident he would be eager to do so. She noted that protecting democratic practices is important at all levels of government, and promised to discuss our issues with the Chief of Staff at their next meeting.

We ended the jam-packed half hour meeting on a positive note with a photograph. We hope to have another meeting with Thurmond’s staff, perhaps after his campaign for California Superintendent of Public Instruction is over.

Photo by Nick Travaglini

Who’s Behind That Curtain? Support AB 2188, Reveal Online Ad Funders

By the Indivisible East Bay Voter Rights and Election Integrity team

Updated May 26, 2018

The Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling eight years ago undermined our democracy by allowing those with unlimited money to use it to drown out the voices of the rest of us. While we would like to see Citizens United overturned, we should not wait for the Supreme Court to act – and we don’t have to. Here’s a good start: AB 2188, the Social Media DISCLOSE Act, currently pending in the California legislature, would lift the veil that lets big spenders influence politics while hiding their identities from us. (DISCLOSE is an acronym for Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light on Spending in Elections.)

The Social Media DISCLOSE Act isn’t the first piece of legislation to tackle this problem. As a 2017 California Clean Money Campaign (CCMC) press release explained, AB 249, the California DISCLOSE Act, requires television, radio, and print ads about ballot measures, and independent expenditures about candidates, to clearly list their top three funders. While AB 249 also has provisions relating to electronic media ads, the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) did not believe that it required social media platforms to comply. AB 2188 closes that loophole, requiring online social media platforms to disclose information regarding the funders of political advertisements and to keep a database of the political ads they run. AB 2188 specifically requires online platforms to display “Who funded this ad?” on each political ad, linking to the page of the paying committee.

The amounts of money involved in political races have always been high; they have now become stratospheric. According to Southern California Law Review, an estimated $1.4 billion was spent on online political advertising nationally in 2016 – nearly an eightfold increase from 2012! And if you think you’re seeing a lot of political ads on Facebook, you’re right – about 40% of that astonishing sum was spent there and on other social media ads. Virtually none of those ads disclosed who paid for them, so you never knew that $100,000 of those Facebook ads were bought by Russian entities. The federal Honest Ads Act, sponsored by Senator Amy Klobuchar and co-sponsored by Senator John McCain, was introduced in response to this threat, but – surprise! – it’s stuck in Congress.

A federal bill would be ideal, as would a Congress that would see it to conclusion. Things being less than ideal, a state like California should be able to stand up and defend itself from the influence of dark money, Super PACs and a handful of people who believe they have more right to be heard than everyone else in the country put together. In fact, AB 2188 is better than the federal bill in at least one way — it requires the web pages of the committees paying for online ads to clearly list the top three true funders – that way, individuals can’t hide behind nice-sounding committee names.

Updated May 26, 2018: AB 2188 awaits a critical vote on the floor of  the Assembly. Please call your Assemblymember before the end of May. What to say:

My name is ______, and my zip code is _____. I’m a member of Indivisible East Bay and a constituent of Assemblymember ______, I’m calling in support of AB 2188, the Social Media DISCLOSE ActPolitical ads on social media like Facebook should be required to disclose who pays for them.  We should never again have to wonder who is trying to influence our vote. I urge ______ to vote yes on AB 2188.

Are you interested in working with the IEB Voter Rights and Election Integrity team? Send us an email or join the voting-issues channel on IEB’s Slack.

Graphic © California Clean Money Action Fund

 

Two Bills to Improve Voter Participation in CA

By the Indivisible East Bay Voter Rights and Election Integrity team

Updated May 26, 2018

Our democracy is fundamental to who we are as a nation, and our right to vote is the foundation of our democracy. Two bills pending in the California legislature offer different paths to reach a common goal: facilitating and increasing voter participation in communities with low voter turnout — workers, students, and the incarcerated.

Election Day Holiday – AB 2165

AB 2165 – Election Day Holiday, was introduced by two Bay Area assembly members, Rob Bonta (Oakland) and Evan Low (San Jose). In April the Indivisible East Bay Governance Committee voted to submit a letter supporting AB 2165 to the California Assembly Committee on Governmental Organization. The bill passed that committee and is now in the Appropriations Committee.

California state law lets workers take two hours off without losing pay to cast a ballot, so why make Election Day a holiday? The bill expands the current law, making it easier for students and school and state employees to vote, for schools to serve as easily accessible polling places, and for students to serve as poll workers.

This is far from being a solution in search of a problem: in 2014 California voters turned out in historically low numbers — only 42% of those registered participated in the general election and a dismal 25% participated in the primary. Nationally, turnout for the 2014 election was below 37%. According to the Pew Research Center, work and school conflicts were the most common reason that eligible voters did not vote in 2014: 35% of respondents said scheduling conflicts with work or school kept them from getting to the polls. Overall voter turnout in the US rarely breaks 60%; we rank 120th out of 169 countries for average turnout. Countries that outperform the US have different methods to elect officials, but many have one thing in common: they have Election Day off.

All Californians should have unfettered access to the polls and should be able to cast their vote in a neighborhood precinct on Election Day. We must do everything possible to make it easier for people in all communities to vote, including removing barriers that prevent those who want to vote from doing so. Assembly member Low hopes that making Election Day a legal holiday will help low-income communities participate in elections.

An Election Day holiday would expand access to voter participation and draw attention to often-overlooked midterm elections. It would commit the state to civic engagement and education by making clear that not only is voting a right and a responsibility, it’s one we take seriously enough to set aside our work obligations so we can all carry it out. It should not be “at the discretion of an employer” whether someone has time to vote, nor should anyone be concerned about their standing at their job, or of lost income because they vote.

We can help make Election Day a holiday and a celebration of our voting rights in California. AB 2165 is now awaiting fiscal analysis in the Appropriations Committee, which must act on the bill by May 24 in order for it to pass. California Senate and Assembly committees represent all Californians, and the Appropriations committee needs to hear from us in order for the bill to pass.

We can help make Election Day a holiday and a celebration of our voting rights in California. Though AB 2165 has successfully passed every Assembly committee hearing thus far, it is now being held in committee under submission.

We need to really turn up the heat so please call your Assemblymember right away! What to say:

My name is ______, and my zip code is _____. I’m a constituent, and a member of Indivisible East Bay. I’m calling to ask Assemblymember ______ to throw [his/her] support behind AB 2165, which is being held under submission. Neighborhood polling places are crucial to maintaining access for the elderly, single parents, for those without transportation or time to vote. An Election Day holiday will help all around by increasing polling locations, numbers of poll workers, overall excitement and participation in voting. Election Day should be a public celebration! AB 2165 will make explicit that the State of California upholds the foundation of our democracy. I urge your support and ask for your help in moving this bill forward.

Also, please spread the word to anyone you know in districts AD 18 (Bonta, Oakland), AD 20 (Quirk, Hayward), who are on the Appropriations Committee where AB 2165 is being held, and anyone in the San Diego area which is Appropriations Committee Chair Fletcher’s district.

 

Jails: Voter Education Program – AB 3115

AB 3115 – Jails: Voter Education Program addresses a need many don’t even know exists. While working people and students grapple with finding time to get to the polls, at least they’re usually aware they are eligible to vote. Many Californians with criminal convictions don’t know that they have that right, or don’t know how to exercise it. In fact, only felons serving their sentences and those on parole are barred from voting, but detainees, including those charged with misdemeanors and those awaiting trial, often think they can’t vote. Some jail officials also believe, incorrectly, that detainees can’t vote. And logistics often make it difficult or impossible for prisoners to register and/or vote. Many formerly incarcerated people are also unclear about their rights.

No eligible voter should be kept from exercising their right to vote for lack of understanding or access. California enacted AB 2466 in 2016 to clarify who can and cannot vote, but confusion persists, particularly when it comes to prisoners. AB 3115 would require county jails to allow at least one outside organization to provide voter education to prisoners to help them understand and exercise their rights. If passed, the bill would help remove the obstacles volunteers encounter coordinating with authorities and gaining access to prisoners.

Studies show that access to voting is strongly linked to lower recidivism. Access to voting has also been shown to re-ignite a sense of participation and citizenship that many people with criminal convictions feel they’ve lost. When people feel more connected to their community, they’re more likely to become contributing, productive citizens when they re-enter their communities. This means that improving prisoner education and access to voting will improve public safety. Because we in Indivisible East Bay know that by educating disenfranchised communities we can increase voting access to tens of thousands inside California jails who have historically been denied their right to register or cast a ballot, the IEB Governance Committee submitted a letter in support of this bill to the Assembly Public Safety Committee on April 9.

Updated May 26, 2018: 

Voter education is just as important as voter registration! AB 3115 awaits a critical vote on the floor of  the Assembly. Please call your Assemblymember before the end of May. What to say:

My name is ______, and my zip code is _____. I’m a member of Indivisible East Bay and a constituent of Assemblymember ______, I’m calling in support of AB 3115, which requires county jails to allow an outside group to provide voter education and help those eligible with registration. Voting is our fundamental right as Americans. If a person is eligible to vote, whether confined to jail or not, this right must be honored, not suppressed. I urge ______ to help by supporting AB 3115.

 

Are you interested in working with the IEB Voter Rights and Election Integrity team? Send us an email or join the voting-issues channel on IEB’s Slack.

 

Crowded Slate Vies for State Assembly District 15 Seat

There were nine candidates on stage and a large engaged audience at the California Assembly District 15 Candidates Forum hosted by the Albany Democratic Club at Albany High on January 29. Although the candidates competed to drop names and out-progressive each other, they appeared for the most part to agree closely on the issues. Even on SB 827, the divisive transit housing density bill by Senators Wiener and Skinner, everyone was in agreement that while they appreciated the spirit of the bill and the conversation it provoked, it needed significant changes to affordability, environmental, and local control provisions before they could support it. The only disagreements were on degree: whether single payer is “ideal” or “necessary”; whether a Prop. 13 (property tax) reform campaign to close the corporate loophole goes far enough. The organizers promised that video of the forum will be available soon on KALB.

I left better informed, but no closer to knowing who I plan to vote for in the primary this June.

Want to know more? Mark your calendar for the Assembly District 15 LGBQTI Candidate Forum, hosted by Lambda Democratic Club of CCC & East Bay Stonewall Democrats, February 21, 6-8 PM. All info here.

Read our earlier article about this race.

The candidates:

Assembly District 15 Candidate Forum

There’s a crowded race to fill Tony Thurmond’s California State Assembly District 15 seat, which he’s leaving to run for state superintendent of public instruction in 2018. Hear the candidates who’ve already announced, at the Assembly District 15 Candidate Forum, Saturday, November 4, 2017, from 11 AM to 2 PM, Contra Costa College, 2600 Mission Bell Dr., San Pablo, in the Room 225, General Education Bldg.

Hosted by the California Democratic Party African American Caucus, the forum is co-sponsored by Contra Costa College, Black Women Organized for Political Action, and the El Cerrito Democratic Club.

City of San Pablo Vice Mayor Genoveva Calloway and Contra Costa Community College District Board Member John Marquez will welcome the community to the City and to Contra Costa College. Paul Cobb, publisher of The Post News Group, will serve as moderator.

Candidates who will attend (in alphabetical order): Judy Appel, Ben Bartlett, Jovanka BecklesDan Kalb, Andy Katz, Rochelle Pardue-Okimoto, Owen Poindexter, Cheryl Sudduth, and Buffy Wicks.

The event is free, you can register here (not required). Any questions – contact Mister Phillips (510) 556-1951, the California Democratic Party African American Caucus Secretary. Can’t make it to the event? Submit questions for possible inclusion.

District 15 includes Albany, Berkeley, Emeryville, Oakland and Piedmont in Alameda County, and El Cerrito, El Sobrante, Hercules, Kensington, Richmond and San Pablo in Contra Costa County.California State Assembly district 15 map

Help Preserve All Votes

Voting is the bedrock of our democracy: if it can be broken, every other right we rely on can be taken away. Many IEB’ers are doing critical work registering voters and canvassing in swing districts. To make sure those hard-won votes are counted, we must improve the security of our elections.

Expert Jim Soper explains that “the foundation of election security is based on paper ballots and random hand counts of the ballots.” On August 24, the authors of California AB 840, originally intended to ensure a thorough vote audit, inserted last-minute amendments that exempt millions of vote by mail ballots from the manual tally.

Under the amended bill, approved by the California Assembly on September 15, 2017, no provisional ballots and only ballots counted before midnight on Election Day will be eligible for audit. Why does that matter? In 2016, about 4 million California ballots were still uncounted after Election Day.

What can you do?

First, please call Governor Brown’s office TODAY, and urge him to veto the bill.

  • Office number: (916) 445-2841 
  • What to say: My name is ____. I live at [zip code]. I’m opposed to AB 840 because it exempts millions of vote by mail ballots from the election audits. Please protect the election audits. I urge Governor Brown to veto the bill. Thank you.

Next? Sign up for the Second Annual Take Back the Vote National Conference. Over 30 nationally recognized election integrity leaders will convene in Berkeley to discuss the current crises in our elections. Among the speakers or guests are computer scientists, professors, lawyers, journalists and election officials as well as federal, state and local legislators. They’ll present their findings, answer questions, and organize a national effort to restore publicly verified democracy in the United States.

  • When: October 7 and 8, 2017; 10 AM – 6 PM both days
  • Where: South Berkeley Senior Center, 2939 Ellis Street, corner of Ashby Avenue
  • More info and register here. Early bird discount: $40 for 2 days. No one turned away for lack of funds
  • Can’t make it? If you can afford, please donate. Volunteers and speakers are tireless but unpaid, and contributing their time.

Take Back the Vote

There’s more! ACLU’s People Power is launching a 50-state voting rights campaign. Kickoff events to campaign for voting rights tailored to each state are planned for October 1st. Find an event or sign up to host one! You’ve got more than 20 to choose from in the Bay Area.ACLU People Power voting launchFinally, want to work with IEB to organize around voting and election issues? Email us.

SB 345 Goes to Reluctant Governor: Would Require Police to Post Procedures Manuals Online

The California Legislature has passed SB 345, new legislation that would require California state and local law enforcement agencies to put most of their policies and procedures online. The bill is now before Governor Brown, who is a supporter of high tech but has close connections with law enforcement. So far, disappointingly, he seems to be balking at signing it.

If the bill becomes law, individuals will have better access to information about law enforcement policies and practices, while law enforcement agencies will provide better communication with their communities – including showcasing their most innovative policies and procedures, enhancing opportunities for better buy-in from their communities.

Some law enforcement agencies, like San Francisco Police Department, have already chosen to put their information online; others do not. The point of the bill is to make this consistent across California so everyone has access to information about their law enforcement agencies. The bill does not require law enforcement to disclose anything that isn’t already available to the public: all information covered by SB 345 is already considered a “public record,” available to anyone who makes a California Public Records Act request. Under SB 345, however, the public can have access to the same information far more simply, without having to file a request.

This law would be a wonderful step forward for law enforcement transparency, and also a great triumph for citizen democracy: the bill was written by a Bay Area private citizen!

Here is some information about SB 345, prepared during its travels through the State Assembly:

Question: What is SB 345?

Answer: SB 345 requires state and local law enforcement agencies to conspicuously post online their current standards, policies, practices, operating procedures and training materials that would otherwise be available to the public if a request was made pursuant to the California Public Records Act [“CPRA”].

Question: Does CPRA already cover this kind of information?

Answer: Yes. CPRA requires that government records shall be disclosed to the public, upon request, unless there is a specific reason not to do so.[1] On March 2, 2017, in a unanimous decision, the California Supreme Court emphasized the breadth and depth of CPRA in City of San Jose v. Sup. Court (Smith) (S218066) [broad reading of CPRA includes private emails of public officials.] The Court highlighted CPRA’s strong presumption that all public records are open for inspection and copying, except those categories of records specifically designated as “exempt” from disclosure. (Gov’t Code sections 6253(b), 6254):

Given the strong public policy of the people’s right to information concerning the people’s business (Gov. Code,§ 6250), and the constitutional mandate to construe statutes limiting the right of access narrowly (Cal. Const., art. I,§ 3, subd. (b)(2)), ‘all public records are subject to disclosure unless the Legislature has expressly provided to the contrary.’ [Smith, supra, at p. 5, citing Sierra Club v. Superior Court (2013) 57 Cal.4th 157, 166, emphasis in original.]

Existing law, through CPRA, provides the public with “identifiable public records,” (California Government Code Section 6253,) defined as information, rather than merely documents and files. Police operating policies, procedures and training manuals are identifiable public records which are subject to disclosure through CPRA. (San Gabriel Tribune v. Superior Court (1983) 143Cal.App.3d 762, 774; Cook v. Craig (1976) 55 Cal.App.3d 773, 782.) Existing law, through CPRA, requires state and local governments to comply with requests for publicly available documents and requires state and local governments to pay in full the costs of those requests.

Question: Does SB 345 make any changes to what is currently subject to disclosure under CPRA?

Answer: No. Sensitive information that is already exempted from public disclosure under CPRA will remain exempted from public disclosure.

Question: What kinds of sensitive law enforcement information are currently exempted from disclosure under CPRA?

Answer: Certain sensitive information is specifically exempt from disclosure pursuant to Government Code section 6254, including but not limited to personnel records, records of complaints against officers, intelligence information, security procedures and certain crime victim information.

A law enforcement agency may justify withholding information from the public if the agency can demonstrate “that the record in question is exempt under express provisions of this chapter or that on the facts of the particular case the public interest served by not disclosing the record clearly outweighs the public interest served by disclosure of the record.” (Government Code section 6255.) Any response denying disclosure must be in writing.

Question: What problems are there for members of the public who currently use CPRA to request law enforcement information?

Answer: Although existing law provides that members of the public may use CPRA to request law enforcement training, policies and procedures, there are currently wide gaps in compliance.

Question: Why are there current gaps in CPRA compliance?

Answer: First, there are general problems with existing law, which does not standardize law enforcement regulations or training in either their substantive content or even their labels or designations. For example, some law enforcement agencies refer to their regulations as “Department General Orders,” while others may use phrases like “Policies and Procedures.” As a result, existing law also does not provide a member of the public with any way to determine which organization has the information sought, or what format the information is stored in, or even what specific language should be used to ensure the CPRA request actually will get fulfilled.

Second, there are specific compliance problems with both state and local law enforcement agencies:

(1) State agencies: Existing law also provides that California Police Officer Standards and Training Commission (“POST”) set forth policies and procedures for most California peace officers. Existing law also requires most California law enforcement officers to obtain a California POST Basic Certificate within a certain amount of time in order to continue to exercise peace officer powers. (Penal Code section 830.1(a).) However, existing law does not require the actual substantive content of this California POST training to be made currently publically available online, and such online materials are currently password protected and only available to members of law enforcement.

(2) Local agencies: Existing law allows individual California local law enforcement department to create their own regulations, including policies and procedures, training and department general orders. Theoretically, this allows for different law enforcement agencies to develop their own models and best practices. However, existing law does not require the actual substantive content of these regulations to be made publicly available in a searchable format and kept current online, which makes it cumbersome for members of the public to access and compare these different models and practices.

Question: Will SB 345 benefit communities and members of the public?

Answer: Yes. The only way communities can participate in the development and the evaluation of state and local law enforcement policies is to actually know what these policies, practices and trainings are. Providing access to these policies and procedures on each law enforcement agency’s public website increases transparency and access to information by allowing residents to review policies and procedures that affect their encounters with police.

SB 345 also fosters better community relations by providing the public with information about each department’s policies and procedures.

Question: Are there studies to support SB 345?

Answer: Yes. Over a dozen years ago, the Seattle Police Department (“SPD”) became one of the first law enforcement agencies in the United States to post its orders online. Soon after, the Seattle Office of Professional Accountability (“OPA”) noted many tangible benefits from SPD posting of its orders online. OPA reported that media and citizen inquiries into police conduct became better informed because the public and news outlets had better access to how SPD operated prior to contacting OPA or SPD. OPA noted it could direct citizens to the website for examination of relevant policies at their convenience, and community outreach was made more meaningful by the ability to reference the publicly available manual.[2]

Subsequently, police accountability expert Professor Samuel Walker of the University of Nebraska at Omaha, recognized SPD for bucking the traditional “attitude of secrecy” that “not only denies to the public basic information about official police policies, but aggravates community relations by sending a message to people that they have no right to know how the department operates.”[3] Professor Walker has submitted a detailed letter in support of SB 345.

More recent support for SB 345 can be found in recommendations from President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing (U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Service, Interim Report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing (Mar. 2015), at 1.) In addressing the issue of transparency and accessibility, the task force recommended that law enforcement agencies make all department policies available for public review. (Id. at 11.) Electronic access to police policies and procedures is consistent with the goals of enhancing police-community relations and furthers procedural justice efforts set out in the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, Action Item 1.5.1:  “In order to achieve external legitimacy, law enforcement agencies should involve the community in the process of developing and evaluating policies and procedures.”[4]

Question: Are there law enforcement agencies already putting this kind of information online?

Answer: Yes. By our last informal count, between 20-30 California law enforcement agencies  – and at least 20 more nationwide – already post and maintain all or part of their regulations and rules online.

Question:  Why are some law enforcement agencies already doing this, even though they are not yet required to do so?

Answer:

  • Because they know communities and law enforcement each benefit by electronic access to police policies and procedures.
  • Because they know that unnecessary costs, labor & paperwork associated with requests for these materials will be greatly reduced, thereby making the process more streamlined, efficient and environmentally sound.
  • Because they know the only way communities can participate in the development and the evaluation of their police department’s policies is to provide members of the community with better access to these policies, practices and trainings.

See, for example, this statement posted on the Santa Ana Police Department website:

The Santa Ana Police Department has numerous policies that guide its employees in their duties enhancing safety in our community. Policies are based on policing best practices, current legal standards and community safety needs. The department strives to achieve the upmost transparency in providing public safety services to the community. Department policies ensure that the community has the opportunity to be well informed and that our police officers receive the most up to date guidance available in policing. We believe placing these policies in a location easily accessible to the community helps broaden communication and increase community trust. (Emphasis added.)[5]

Question: What will SB 345 cost?

Answer: It’s not exactly clear. As far as we know, no one has actually compiled the costs of complying with CPRA, including the exact number of CPRA requests filed by members of the public on any given day or during any given year, or how many CPRA requests are received annually by each law enforcement agency.

However, we do know that each law enforcement agency in California must comply with CPRA: responses to CPRA requests are mandatory, not optional.

For those agencies that are already posting and maintaining their materials online, there will be no additional cost. For those agencies that are not already doing so, there will be an initial cost with eventual cost savings. By posting and maintaining this information online, law enforcement agencies will cut down staff time and resources necessary to respond to each and every CPRA request.

Finally, we know that many law enforcement agencies – including smaller and rural law enforcement agencies – are already posting their information online because, in part, it is a cost-effective and fiscally responsible choice. These law enforcement agencies would not already be posting their information online if it was cost prohibitive to do so.

Question: Who sponsors and supports SB 345?

  • Answer: California Public Defenders Association (sponsor)
  • ACLU of California (Natasha Minsker testified in support of the bill at both the Senate & Assembly Public Safety Committee hearings)
  • National Association of Public Defenders
  • Electronic Frontier Foundation
  • Gideon’s Promise
  • Northern California Innocence Project
  • Dr. Samuel Walker, Police Accountability Expert and Author of several books on police accountability
  • Silicon Valley De-Bug
  • California Attorneys for Criminal Justice

Question: Who opposes SB 345?

Answer: California State Sheriffs’ Association

Question: Why should I support SB 345?

Answer: Because SB 345 is a simple, cost-effective, common sense way to improve police-community relations while increasing transparency and access to police information.

[1]  See e.g., “Summary of the California Public Records Act 2004,” California Attorney General’s Office, August 2004.

[2]  See Washington, D.C.’s Police Complaint Board’s Recommendation for Publication of MPD Orders on the Internet (July 14, 2005), p. 2, available at: http://policecomplaints.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/police%20complaints/publication/attachments/policy_rec_mpd_general_orders.pdf

[3]  Samuel Walker, The New World of Police Accountability 190 (2004).

[4] In December 2014, President Barack Obama established the Task Force on 21st Century Policing. The Task Force identified best practices and offered 58 recommendations on how policing practices can promote effective crime reduction while building public trust. The Task Force recommendations are centered on six main objectives: Building Trust and Legitimacy, Policy and Oversight, Technology and Social Media, Community Policing and Crime Reduction, Officer Training and Education, and Officer Safety and Wellness. The Task Force’s final report is available at: http://www.cops.usdoj.gov/pdf/taskforce/taskforce_finalreport.pdf.

[5]  http://www.ci.santa-ana.ca.us/pd/policies.asp

Checking in with State Senator Wieckowski

Last week saw the passage of AB 398, the compromise cap-and-trade bill, which prevented the much more progressive SB 775 from working its way through the legislature.The author of SB 775, State Senator Bob Wieckowski (SD-10, Fremont), spoke at an event in San Francisco hosted by the Universal Income Project on Tuesday evening. Members from IEB as well as our friends at CA StateStrong & Indivisible SF attended the event to express our support for SB 775 and our disappointment that the Senator (and most other Democrats) voted for AB 398.

Senator Wieckowski responded that AB 398 is mediocre, that he had a hard time casting his vote, and that his staff supported a no vote, but that he was “definitely feeling the heat” from Jerry Brown, who designed the current cap & trade system protected by AB 398 and considers it his “baby.” Wieckowski also talked about the role of SB 1, the gas tax bill that was passed earlier this year, implying that some legislators feel paralyzed in passing any more legislation that could be perceived as a tax this year. He said if he could do it again, he would come out louder and earlier in support of SB 775. We told him he could and should let the grassroots help him in his efforts to pass progressive environmental legislation.

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On a positive note, Senator Wieckowski talked at length about SB 775 and his continuing desire to overhaul and improve the entire system. When we asked whether there was any path forward to implement the good parts of SB 775, he said the current bill just punts the responsibility of the entire program to the California Air Resources Board (CARB) – so in theory, there’s nothing prohibiting more legislation that would direct CARB to implement some of SB 775’s features (for instance, not allowing rollover carbon emission allowances). Senator Wieckowski seems quite knowledgeable about environmental matters and concerned about other environmental issues, including decarbonizing the grid and promoting the use of clean vehicles. Overall, perhaps the most optimistic takeaway is that we have found an opportunity to work with a legislator who is not used to working with the grassroots but is open to our input, our help, and our support for pushing the environmental needle left. So let’s keep showing up!

By Jiggy of CAStateStrong