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July 31, 2020

The City’s Police Dept., Involved in Three Fatal Shootings this Year, Uses Guidelines from Police Lobbying Groups that Opposed the Law

LOS ANGELES — Police officers’ legal authority to kill underwent a key change in California on January 1, when a new law stated that lethal force was justifiable only “when necessary in defense of human life.”

But even as officer use of deadly force has become a hugely prominent national issue, many police departments in California — prompted by police associations and special interest groups — have not only refused to accept the new law, but also used taxpayer dollars to spread the myth that “nothing has changed.”

Today, the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California and the national ACLU filed a taxpayer action lawsuit in Superior Court in Los Angeles against the Pomona Police Department whose officers shot and killed three people since the law went into effect. The lawsuit charges that the police department unlawfully used public funds and employee time in adopting policies and trainings — designed by police lobbying groups — that conflict with the new state law.

The lawsuit is the first in the state concerning police defiance of the new law, the California Act to Save Lives (also known as AB 392).

“Police lobbying groups shouldn’t have the power to direct public resources in a way that undermines community safety,” said Eva Bitrán, staff attorney for the ACLU SoCal.

One of the main proponents of the misinformation campaign is the powerful special interest and lobbying group Peace Officers Research Association of California (PORAC) that leverages immense financial resources to influence candidates and legislation.

The lawsuit states that Pomona Police Department officials took their marching orders from PORAC to actively oppose AB 392 when it was being considered. They used department resources to further the mission, even sending out messages on city letterhead. When AB 392 ultimately passed, PORAC began a campaign to undermine it.

Three days after the signing of the new law, PORAC’s president sent an email to members — including the Pomona Police Officers Association — claiming that AB 392 does “not significantly impact” law enforcement actions.

The Pomona Police Department, in the spirit of that opposition, deleted in multiple spots the word “necessary” — the new law’s single most vital change — in its stated policy of state penal code. The department’s training center also instructed supervisors to review with employees PORAC’s content on AB 392 that denied any change to the legal standard for deadly force. A sergeant forwarded the directive with the note: “FYI from PORAC. Nothing has changed.”

The department is a paid subscriber to Lexipol, a private police consulting company that issues ready-made policy documents to police departments. A Lexipol video sent to subscribers flatly stated that the legal standard for police use of force under the new California law “is the exact same thing we’ve had for the last 50 years.” The video specifically stated several times that the new law did not establish a “necessary” standard.

The ACLU lawsuit was filed on behalf of members of a Pomona coalition, Police Oversight Starts Today. They include plaintiff Gente Organizada, a community-based, nonprofit social-action organization. It became involved in efforts to hold police accountable because of the Pomona Police Department’s history of violence against young people.

“This action is about challenging a corrupt police state that actively kills with impunity, profiles our Black residents, and upholds white supremacy in Pomona,” said Jesus Sanchez, co-founder and executive director of Gente Organizada. “The pillaging of our resources has to stop; our elected officials are doing nothing to reclaim our resources because they are beholden to the Pomona Police Department.”

The lawsuit asks the court to approve an injunction to halt use of Pomona Police Department funds, resources, and employee time in instructing officers that the new law does not establish a “necessary standard for deadly use of force.” Other requests include an injunction barring the use of PORAC and Lexipol materials that misrepresent the new law.

“Across the country, PORAC and similar police associations work behind the scenes to ensure officers can violate the law,” said Carl Takei, senior staff Attorney for the national ACLU. “It’s time to stop them from harming our communities.”

Read the lawsuit here: