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Orange County Democratic party to candidates: Back police reform if you want us to back you

The Democratic Party of Orange County will vote tonight on a resolution that would require local candidates who want the party’s endorsement to commit to fighting for police reforms if elected, including training officers on proper use of force and on racial bias.

The party would continue to turn away money from police unions if the resolution passes, effectively relegating police unions to the same status as “big tobacco” and “big oil,” whose funding is considered too politically toxic to accept. Also, the party would support reevaluating how much cities spend on policing and reforming laws that protect officers who use excessive force.

But the party stopped short of calling for all Democratic candidates to do the same, though the resolution could be amended when it comes up for a vote during tonight’s emergency Central Committee meeting.

The vote comes as police brutality protests continue to sweep the nation, spurred by the May 25 death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died at the hands of Minneapolis police after he was accused of passing a counterfeit $20 bill at a corner convenience store.

On Monday, House Democrats unveiled a sweeping police reform bill that would ban chokeholds and no-knock warrants, create a national registry of cops disciplined for excessive force and mandate new training programs, among other changes.

Some cities, including San Diego and Pasadena, have already announced their own bans on chokeholds. And Assemblyman Miguel Santiago, D-Los Angeles, with colleagues on Monday introduced a bill to ban chokeholds throughout the state.

By adding detailed police reform policies to its platform, Orange County Democratic leaders said they aim to make racial justices issues a priority for candidates this November and in all elections going forward.

“We have got to make systemic changes,” said Ada Briceño, chair of the OC Democratic party. “This is a movement that is ongoing and we want to embed it in everything we do long term.”

Central Committee member Victor Valladares wrote to party leaders on May 30, five days after Floyd’s death, expressing frustration that the party hadn’t issued a statement of support for the Black Lives Matter movement and demanding justice for Floyd. Briceño published an opinion piece with Voice of OC on June 2 saying she intended to call a special Central Committee meeting to address the issue.

Briceño drafted a resolution that called for candidates to back a slew of police and racial justice reforms.

Another group of Democratic community leaders drafted their own resolution. It called for some of the same reforms, but also wanted candidates to reject all police union backing unless the department committed to specific reforms and for the repeal of a law that offers police limited immunity in excessive force cases.

Jeff LeTourneau, a vice chair with the OC Democratic party who helps lead the Resolutions Committee, said they decided in a meeting Wednesday night to let the authors merge the two proposals into a single resolution that will go before the Central Committee tonight.

In that process, LeTourneau said they went from calling for a repeal of immunity policies to reforming them. And they dropped the most contentious suggestion, which was the push for candidates to turn down police union funding or endorsements.

It’s a movement that’s gaining momentum with some Democrats.

On Thursday, state Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco announced on Twitter that he would no longer accept campaign contributions from police, sheriff and prison guard unions, instead donating roughly $20,000 he previously received from such labor groups to nonprofits that serve Bay Area youth. Sen. Lena Gonazalez of Long Beach, also a Democrat, responded with a tweet of her own: “Same!”

And last week, three county prosecutors and George Gascon, who is campaigning to become district attorney of Los Angeles, wrote a letter to the state bar association urging the organization to prohibit D.A. candidates from receiving campaign contributions from law enforcement unions.

Organized labor groups representing service workers, teachers and health care workers are big spenders in California elections. Most of their money winds up backing Democratic candidates. Law enforcement spending is typically more mixed, with some police union spending to support OC candidates on both sides of the aisle so far this election cycle.

LeTourneau said he’s heard from local candidates who fear they won’t be electable if they alienate the police union. He cited a special election last month to recall Santa Ana Councilwoman Cecilia Iglesias, who voted in 2019 against $25 million in pay raises for police officers.

That example shows that losing police support — or gaining their well-funded opposition — could prove more costly for local Democrats than losing a party endorsement.

So, while LeTourneau said he wishes some of the language in the party’s resolution was a bit stronger, he said he’s more concerned with the party having a unified voice on what he called “an unsustainable, out-of-control increase in the militarization of police.”

The resolution on the table tonight says candidates looking for party support would need to back mandatory police training on diversity, use of force, deescalation and racial bias. They would need to push for diversity in hiring and to implement community policing policies, where police partner with community members to promote public safety. Candidates also would need to support teaching bias in local schools and focusing county resources on mental health for communities of color.

If the resolution passes, the Central Committee will follow up in 2021 with endorsed candidates who won their races to make sure they’ve made “good faith” attempts to get such policies approved.

The resolution is up for a vote during the committee meeting that starts at 7 p.m. tonight. The online meeting is open to all voters registered as Democrats in Orange County.

CalMatters contributed to this report.

Source: Orange County Register

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