by RPLG Senior Associate Jamal Anderson


In the wake of George Floyd’s killing by Minneapolis police officers last May, public entities across the nation – including many cities and counties – have started the process of re-examining policing and public safety models amidst demands for reform, restructuring and racial and economic justice.

In California, reform has taken many forms, with some jurisdictions embracing the process of reimagining public safety, with a specific eye towards shifting funding away from law enforcement agencies and into historically underserved or marginalized communities. Other jurisdictions have gone a different route, focusing instead on the improvement of officer training and/or the revision of policies that impact officer interactions with members of the community. And another set of jurisdictions have focused their reform efforts on accountability, either by establishing new oversight bodies to review and investigate police complaints, or by providing increased powers to oversight bodies that were already in existence but seemed ineffective. All of this has occurred in the midst a changing political landscape at the state and national level as it relates to police reform, in addition to evolving public opinion on the topic.

That is all to say, police reform – or public safety reform, as this paper will refer to it – is nuanced and complicated, and varies greatly from one jurisdiction to the next. To that end, this paper does not seek to evaluate or judge the changes currently underway, as more time will likely be needed to assess the impact of recent reform efforts. Instead, this paper offers an overview of how some cities and/or counties have approached public safety reform, with the goal of informing and improving efforts currently underway, and those yet to be started.

George Floyd and Use-of-Force Policies 

Few people need to be reminded of the excruciating video that depicted Minneapolis Police Department Officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on the neck of George Floyd for 9 minutes and 29 seconds. However, a straight line can be drawn from the brutality on display in that video – which was viewed by millions of people around the world – to the public safety reform efforts that have followed. Specifically, the video depicted Officer Chauvin using his knee to perform what is known as a “carotid restraint,” which applies pressure to vascular veins to temporarily cut off blood flow to the brain, rendering the person unconscious. [1]

In the immediate aftermath of George Floyd’s killing, law enforcement agencies across the country considered anew the use of the carotid restraint and similar neck restraints, which have been the subject of controversy for many years. Perhaps the most prominent example in recent years involves the death of Eric Garner, who was placed in a chokehold by a New York Police Department officer while being arrested in 2014 and later died. Video footage of the arrest was widely shared and captured Garner repeatedly telling officers: “I can’t breathe.” Yet despite the fact that the chokehold used on Garner was, in fact, prohibited, the officer involved was not indicted by a grand jury and was only terminated by the New York Police Department in 2019, after years of disciplinary proceedings. [2]

The relationship between the killing of George Floyd and the death of Eric Garner is striking because the New York state legislature fast-tracked a set of police-reform measures following the nationwide protests decrying the killing of George Floyd. Among the measures passed and signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo on June 12, 2020 – less than three weeks after George Floyd was killed – was the Eric Garner Anti-Chokehold Act, which was first introduced in the 2013-2014 legislative session. [3]

The speed with which the New York legislature moved to pass long-stalled public safety reform measures in the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing was not unique as many legislative bodies, including some in California, sought to respond to calls for reform.

California and Use-of-Force Policies 

In many ways, when George Floyd was killed, the state of California had been ahead of the curve as it relates to conversations about revising standards for the use of force – deadly and otherwise – by law enforcement officers.

In 2019, Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law AB 392, which modernized deadly force standards to provide that deadly force may only be used when necessary. [4] Effective January 1, 2020, AB 392 also required that officers use other techniques to address threats instead of using deadly force when safe to do so, and encouraged law enforcement to train on and use de escalation techniques like verbal persuasion and other crisis intervention methods. [5] Passage of the bill, which was spearheaded by then-Assemblymember Shirley Weber (D-San Diego), marked the culmination of a years-long effort following the 2018 shooting of Stephon Clark by Sacramento Police Department officers. [6]

However, carotid restraint techniques, like the one used on George Floyd, were not expressly outlawed in California until October 2020, when Governor Newsom signed into law a series of police reform bills, including AB 1196. AB 1196, introduced by Assemblymember Mike Gipson (D-Carson) on June 4, 2020, prohibits law enforcement agencies from authorizing the use of the carotid restraint and chokeholds. [7] While a number of cities across the state, like San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego, had already taken steps to prohibit the use of these techniques, statewide policies regarding neck restraints varied until passage of AB 1196. [8]

SB 230, sponsored by Assemblymember Anna Caballero (D-Salinas), was also signed into law in 2019. A counterpart to AB 392, the measure establishes guidelines for use-of-force training by every California law enforcement agency to standardize training throughout the state, requires every law enforcement agency to maintain an internal policy that includes specified guidelines on use of force, and requires each law enforcement agency to make its use-of-force policy accessible to the public. [9]

Local Reform – Use-of-Force Policies 

In the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing on May 25, 2020, many cities across the state of California were quick to move forward with revisions to use-of-force policies. For example, on June 30, 2020, the Sacramento City Council voted to require an inspector general “to investigate officer-involved shootings and use-of-force incidents that result in serious bodily injury or death.” [10] In the same ordinance, Council Members prohibited the use of carotid holds, prohibited the use of no-knock narcotics raid warrants, and required that officers receive ongoing, explicit and implicit bias training. [11]

In San Francisco, Mayor London Breed announced a series of police reforms on June 11, 2020. [12] Included in the reforms announced was a plan to “demilitarize police” by establishing an explicit ban on the use of military-grade weapons against unarmed civilians, including chemical weapons such as tear gas. The plan also called for ending the use of police as a response to non-criminal activity, an effort adopted by other California jurisdictions, which will be discussed further below. Notably, in May 2020, San Francisco already had in place bans on chokeholds and strangleholds, along with requirements that officers warn before shooting and intervene in cases of excessive use of force. [13]

San Diego similarly took swift action and on June 1, 2020, Police Chief David Nisleit announced that police officers in the city were banned from using chokeholds. [14] And on June 24, 2020, the Mayor of San Jose released a plan to change policing policy that included the expansion of authority for the city’s Independent Police Auditor to include “use of force” allegations, a ban on the use of rubber bullets, and a full review of the city’s use of force policy. [15]

While public safety reform efforts on the local level varied, as evidenced by the examples above, cities that swiftly adopted reforms – or announced plans for reform – shared several characteristics. First, local elected officials and/or police chiefs acted swiftly and decisively, and in most instances adopted policies or announced plans for policy changes that were more forward-leaning than those previously discussed on a statewide level. Second, in many instances, cities that had an established police reform or accountability infrastructure in place (e.g. San Francisco Police Commission, San Jose Independent Police Auditor, and San Diego Community Review Board on Police Practices), were better prepared to enact reforms because many issues involving the use-of-force and related issues had been discussed and evaluated for many years, even if a resolution was not reached. Finally, public advocacy for reform, which was widespread, was perhaps more acutely observed in larger cities like San Francisco, San Diego and San Jose, but many public protests took place in smaller cities like Berkeley, Stockton and Sacramento, each of which moved forward with reform efforts shortly after George Floyd’s killing.

Public advocacy also impacted local reform efforts, specifically around the use of force, amongst some law enforcement agencies. Campaign Zero, a police reform campaign launched in the aftermath of the death of Eric Garner and protests in Ferguson, Missouri, started the 8 Can’t Wait project following the killing of George Floyd. The project encouraged law enforcement agencies to adopted eight polices to decrease or end police violence: (1) ban chokeholds and strangleholds; (2) require de-escalation; (3) require a warning before shooting; (4) require that all alternatives be exhausted before shooting; (5) require officers to intervene when excessive force is being used; (6) ban shooting at moving vehicles; (7) establish a force continuum; and (8) require comprehensive reporting. [16]

Though not without critique, the project garnered the attention of many cities and counties looking to take immediate action in response to the killing of George Floyd and the protests that followed. Consequently, several jurisdictions, including Carlsbad [17] and Santa Clara County [18], fully adopted the 8 Can’t Wait reforms. Notably, however, many jurisdictions that did not fully adopt the reforms, provided information to the public about reform efforts underway or those that were newly initiated. Some jurisdictions that took this approach include San Mateo County [19] and the City of Concord. [20] These efforts marked a new level of transparency for many agencies.

Public Safety Oversight 

The nationwide protests that followed the killing of George Floyd, and the relative success of the 8 Can’t Wait project, foreshadowed what has perhaps had the most significant impact on how and why many cities are addressing police reform: citizen participation and advocacy.

In the November 2020 election voters in jurisdictions across the state of California enacted several police reform measures, many of which focused on the creation or alteration of existing police oversight methods. The following is a survey of measures enacted by either voters or cities across the state:

San Diego: San Diego voters approved Measure B, a charter amendment, which replaced a civilian board that reviews complaints against police officers with a commission that can  investigate, subpoena, and recommend policies and discipline. The new commission is also responsible for investigating all deaths in police custody and those resulting from interactions with the police, as well as police shootings. [21] The measure won the support of 75% of voters. [22] The full ballot measure along with the City Attorney’s Impartial analysis is attached (Attachment A).

San Jose: San Jose voters approved Measure G, which expanded the authority of San Jose’s independent police auditor to review reports and records related to officer-involved shootings and uses of force that resulted in injury or death. Prior to passage, the auditor did not have access to these records. [23] Measure G won the support of 78% of voters. [24]

Berkeley: Berkeley voters approved Measure II, which established an independent Director of Police Accountability (DPA) and a nine-member Police Accountability Board (PAB), to replace the existing Police Review Commission. Some of the responsibilities assigned to the new PAB include making recommendations regarding the policies and operations of the Berkeley Police Department, making recommendations regarding whether discipline is warranted when complaints of officer misconduct are filed with the PAB, and participating in the hiring of the Chief of Police. Measure II won the support of 84% of voters. [25] The full ballot measure is attached (Attachment B).

San Francisco: San Francisco voters approved Proposition D, which established a new oversight board and created an Inspector General’s Office for the San Francisco County Sheriff’s Department. San Francisco voters also approved Proposition E, which called for amending the city’s charter to remove minimum staffing requirements for the San Francisco Police Department. Proposition D passed with the support of 66% of voters and Proposition E received the support of 71% of voters. [26]

Fresno: On June 11, 2020, the Mayor of Fresno and the Fresno City Council announced the formation of the Fresno Commission for Police Reform, which was comprised of 40 community members. The Commission was asked to develop recommendations related to police reform and community safety within 90 days, and subsequently produced a 292-page report containing 73 recommendations in October 2020.

The recommendations include, among other things, policy changes involving the use of deadly force, hiring and recruiting, and responding to nonviolent calls for service. (A full copy of the report can be found here.) In early April, Fresno named eight community members to serve on a Police Reform Board which will be responsible for implementing the policy changes identified by the Commission.

Long Beach: On June 23, 2020, the Long Beach City Council adopted a Framework for Reconciliation, pursuant to its Racial Equity and Reconciliation Initiative. [27] Included in the framework were recommendations regarding the city’s approach to community safety, including the exploration of non-police alternatives to law enforcement emergency response and the redesign of police oversight and accountability through improved complaint and discipline practices.

For example, the report calls for the creation of non-police, civilian emergency response teams to respond to non-violent calls for service 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The report also recommends the creation of an alternate phone number and dispatch system for non-violent emergency calls for service.

Long Beach also recently announced efforts to reform the City’s Citizen’s Police Complaint Commission, another goal identified in the Racial Equity and Reconciliation Initiative Initial Report.

Oakland: In November 2020, voters in Oakland approved MeasureS1, which strengthened oversight of the police department by increasing the powers of the civilian-led Oakland Police Commission, which was established by voters in 2016. The measure also created the Office of Inspector General, which is responsible for reviewing cases of police misconduct, and removed the commission from the city and police department’s chain of command. MeasureS1 received the support of 81% of voters. [28]

Sonoma County: Voters in Sonoma County approved Proposition P, which expanded the powers of the Independent Office of Law Enforcement Review and Outreach (IOLERO) to investigate Sheriff related issues. Specifically, the measure added the ability of the Office to independently review evidence of misconduct and subpoena records and testimony. IOLERO was created by the County Board of Supervisors in 2015, following the 2013 killing of a 13-year-old by a Sheriff’s Deputy. Measure P passed with the support of 67% of voters. [29] The full text of Measure P, along with the County Counsel’s impartial analysis is attached (Attachment C).

Stockton: In July 2020, Stockton announced the creation of a City Manager’s Review Board (CMRB) to provide “insight, guidance, monitoring and recommendations to promote comprehensive public safety strategies through analysis of policies and practices.” The Board, which is led by the City Manager and Police Chief, consists of 25 community members. The Board does not have subpoena power and can not make hiring or firing decisions. [30] As indicated by the non-exhaustive list above, many of the local reform efforts involving public  safety oversight share certain commonalities. First, several jurisdictions, with voter affirmation, opted to expand the authority of existing oversight bodies to include increased powers to conduct  independent investigations. For example, the ability to subpoena witnesses or review certain  documents, was often at issue. Second, most, if not all jurisdictions that moved forward with reform, even by way of ballot measure, did so with the support of local officials, both elected and unelected. This broad coalition, in some ways, explains the robust voter support for many reform efforts. Third, even in jurisdictions where voters did not enact reforms, local officials, including city managers and police chiefs, took steps to enact measures that responded to citizen concerns. And while the outcome of these efforts is yet to be determined, public advocacy efforts have and will continue to play a significant role in reform efforts moving forward.

Reimagining Public Safety 

While some cities have taken a more focused approach to reform efforts by zeroing in on specific issues like use-of-force polices or the creation of new oversight bodies, other cities have moved forward with broader efforts that seek to fully reimagine public safety and the overall role of law enforcement officers in communities. Notable examples of efforts currently underway include those in Berkeley, Oakland, and Richmond.

Berkeley Reimagining Public Safety Task Force: In July 2020 the Berkeley City Council passed a comprehensive public safety reform measure designed to reshape policing in the city. Included in the package of reforms was the establishment of a civilian-led Task Force with primary responsibilities being to define a new approach to community safety by reviewing and analyzing emerging community safety models and recommend a new, community-centered safety paradigm. [31] The Task Force held its first meeting in February 2021 and the City Council has continued to explore other reform efforts, including recent action to ban officers from stopping drivers for low-level offenses to reduce racial disparities in policing. [32]

Oakland Reimagining Public Safety Task Force: In July 2020, the Oakland City Council voted to authorize the civilian-led Reimagining Public Safety Task Force, which was charged with developing recommendations for the Council to consider to increase community safety through alternative response to calls for assistance, and investments in programs that address the root causes of violence. [33] The Task Force held its first meeting in September 2020 and produced a report with 147 recommendations in February 2021.

The recommendations, which are currently being considered by the Oakland City Council and other community stakeholders, are divided into specific categories: (1) recommendations related to alternatives to policing; (2) recommendations related to violence prevention and root causes; (3) recommendations related to improving policing; (4) recommendations related to budget allocation; and (5) recommendations related to data transparency.

Richmond Police Reimagining Public Safety Community Task Force: In June 2020, the Richmond City Council directed city staff to prepare a plan to transition away from the city’s “community policing” model and authorized the creation of a task force to oversee the transition. [34, 35] In October 2020, the City Council appointed 21 members to a Reimagining Public Safety Community Task Force. The Task Force continues to meet monthly to review alternatives to traditional models of public safety.

Alternatives to Police Response 

As cities like Berkeley, Oakland and Richmond explore a range of alternative policing models, other jurisdictions have begun pilot programs to end police response to non-criminal calls. In January 2021, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors approved the creation of a two-year pilot project that will pair mental health professionals with law enforcement officers as they respond to individuals in a mental or behavioral health crisis. [36]

In November 2020, San Francisco announced the creation of a Street Crisis Response Team pilot program, a partnership between the city’s Public Health and Fire Departments. The pilot program was created as part of the city’s broader efforts to develop alternatives to police responses to non-violent calls. [37]

Other cities that have moved forward with similar programs – permanent or otherwise – include Los Angeles, which launched an Alternative Dispatch program in February 2021, and Sacramento County, which approved a plan to have a mental health crisis team respond to certain 911 calls instead of law enforcement officers in March 2021.


It would be difficult to definitively capture the myriad public safety reform efforts currently underway in California given the size of the state and the complexity of the efforts. However, efforts have generally fallen into one of the broad categories described above. While some jurisdictions have focused on one or two areas in particular, others have tackled them all.

Though the ultimate success or failure of these efforts will not be known for some time, the speed with which many jurisdictions acted was unprecedented in many ways and truly speaks to the import of the efforts. Everyone has a vested interest in the success of efforts ostensibly designed to create more fair, equitable, and just communities, and it is unsurprising that cities and other local jurisdictions across the state are leading the way.


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