AB 301: The Peace Officers' Bill of Rights

By Rick Baratta


The advent of the Myers, Milieus, Brown Act in 1968 (collective bargaining) brought with it major law enforcement unrest in California, as cities and counties resisted complying with the law, probably because many were confused. The administrators had not had to deal with unions before and, subsequently, strikes and disciplinary actions were the order of the day.


In August 1969, the Redding Police Department went out on strike, as did the Anderson Police Department. Neither were PORAC members but they sought assistance from PORAC and the board agreed to provide any help that could be given.


The Central Coast Chapter developed a position paper, calling for PORAC to become a more relevant labor organization. Their position was basically that with the implementation of the Myers, Milius, Brown Act (MMB), the associations would be looking to PORAC for assistance in labor issues. Unless satisfied, they would turn to organized labor for assistance.


Although the Bay Area and the Los Angeles chapters were behind the issue, even they were not in total agreement. Eventually there developed three sides in PORAC. Those that supported the proposal for a more labor oriented organization, those that were against the proposal for professional reasons, and those that were opposed for financial reasons; since dues would have to increase to hire support staff.


During the year, Charlie Oates from Torrance and Sam Mullins from Oakland worked with attorney Pat Burdick to develop ad hoc by-law proposals that would make PORAC more labor oriented. The 1969, PORAC Conference opened with the proponents of change urging that all business be put aside so that the issue could be debated.


After a heated debate at the conference, the new by-laws were accepted. Members saw a dues increase of 1,200 percent (from $1 a member per year to $1 a  month).  PORAC had changed its focus to a labor representation organization, with the expressed goal of responding positively to the representation needs of its members, and to re-enter the Sacramento scene with a strong lobbying force.


During 1970, the effects of MMB was being felt throughout the state as employee associations attempted to meet and confer with their employers, and found ignorance of the new law. The cities and counties dug in, and for the most part refused to give an inch, demonstrating a "show me" attitude.


Law Enforcement was determined to show them, demanding help from PORAC. Attorneys like Burdick in the north and Steve Solomon in the south were available for a price to give this help. At times Burdick and his staff would jump in to provide assistance in emergencies, and worry about payment later. Since PORAC had earmarked 10 percent of the dues for "aid to local associations" there was money to assist and pay for attorney services.


The year 1970 started off with one major unanticipated problem, unrelated to labor relations. Twelve Alameda County deputy sheriffs were indicted by a federal grand jury for civil rights violations arising from a riot in 1969 called "the people's park riot" in Berkeley. PORAC came to their aid with moral support, legal advice, and money.


San Luis Obisbo POA had negotiation problems and was on the verge of a strike. Monterey POA was also about to strike over stalled labor negotiations. San Jose was developing labor problems and wanted assistance.


Antioch POA went out on strike and was assisted by Burdick and PORAC officers. Even though they were not PORAC members, PORAC paid the bill. San Joaquin DSA sued the county for failure to meet and confer. Santa Barbara DSA went on strike and also hired Burdick.


San Diego POA was conducting a traffic citation slowdown because of stalled negotiations. Lt. Phil Norton, as president of the POA, was being sued because he was pursuing association business on city time.


The MMB moved into gear during the second year of its existence with turmoil and disruption in the police agencies of the state. Berkeley had a ballot measure that would have broken the police department into three separate police departments: black, white, and campus, and PORAC donated $5,000 to fight it.


Two officers in Brawley POA were being disciplined because of association activities and the city had refused to recognize the association. PORAC asked Burdick to assist and agreed to pay the bill.


Fresno POA had placed a measure on the ballot to eliminate the residency requirement. PORAC authorized $2,500 to Fresno POA. Montebello POA had their life and accident insurance taken away and PORAC authorized $2,500.


Long Beach POA received $2,500 to assist in their litigation involving overtime. San Jose was given $1,666 to assist litigation because of a violation of their MOU, and Calexico POA was authorized up to $1,000, to assist two officers who had been fired.


San Anselmo POA asked for $500 to fight bad faith negotiations. San Jose POA requested additional assistance as they had thrown up informal picket lines.


Sacramento POA received $5,000 to assist in a "binding arbitration" ballot. San Diego POA received $3,500 for an overtime suite, and Manhattan Beach POA received $800 for a similar issue.


The cities and counties were either collectively determined to hold the line or were just plain ignorant with arrogant overtones. Some observers suggested that collective management was attempting to break PORAC financially.


The year 1972 started with requests for assistance, again from San Jose POA for $3,000, and $500 to the Contra Costa DA investigators. Fontana received $1,000, as did Tustin, which had not yet formed an association.


In Blythe an officer was arrested for shooting a suspect off-duty, and PORAC went to the rescue.


In March, a Superior Court judge denied the demurrer of the city in a $400,000 overtime suit with Fontana POA. The Contra Costs DA investigators were successful in their unit determination suit. The Alameda County deputy sheriffs had been acquitted, but still faced civil service hearings to be reinstated.


Many more PORAC associations were requesting "PORAC's Aid to Local Associations" to assist with funds to hire attorneys, and the "Aid to Locals" fund dried up still "owing" over $5,000, never to be reborn. Something else was needed to assist the members, and the Legal Defense Fund was still an idea away.


Peace officers had never enjoyed the civil rights afforded to other U.S. citizens, and management at times ran roughshod over their officers. There was simply no law to protect the peace officer from the capricious actions of a chief or sheriff. Litigation without statutory rights was too great a handicap to continue.


The Peace Officer Bill of Rights was created


In 1973 a bill (AB 1800) was proposed that would extend civil rights to officers, which PORAC supported. In 1974 PORAC amended this legislation and joined with the Los Angeles Police Protective League (LAPPL- not a PORAC member) to cosponsor the "Policemans' Bill of Rights."


The bill was naturally opposed by management organizations, chiefly the County Supervisors' Association, and the League of California Cities. The legislation failed, and was rewritten by PORAC and introduced as AB 301.


President Bill Bean appointed Wally Colfer (SEBA) to head up an Inter-Association Liaison Committee, composed of PORAC, CPOA, COPS, LAPPL, Los Angeles Sheriffs' Association, and the attorney general. The president of CPOA at the time was Leslie Sourissou, a former PORAC member and quiet supporter. He offered a resolution to CPOA supporting in principal the Public Safety Officers' Procedural Bill of Rights Act, (POBR) but failed to convince their board because of the polygraph exclusion. However, PORAC and their allies succeeded in getting the bill passed out of the Assembly and into the Senate to become a two-year bill, still alive. Now in 1974, the race for governor had Jerry Brown and Huston Flournoy running neck-and-neck. The PORAC president sent a questionnaire to each candidate specifically asking their position on AB 301, including their opinion of the provision in the bill excluding peace officers from having to take a lie detector test.


Brown wrote back that he supported the legislation and was personally opposed to lie detector tests for public employees. Flournoy declined to respond. Brown was elected governor, and the bill eventually reached his desk in 1976, opposed adamantly by CPOA and CSAC because of the polygraph exclusion.


Joe Aceto was PORAC president in 1976, and heavily involved in lobbying the governor to sign the AB 301. Governor Brown hesitated in making the decision because of a great deal of pressure from police management to veto it. Just before the deadline was reached, Aceto received a call from Bill Bean, reminding him that Brown had said he supported the bill, and this had been reported in PORAC News. Aceto turned the office upside down to find the written response, and finally succeeded. Aceto immediately sent a copy of Brown's original response and a copy of the PORAC News article to the governor, just to remind him of his position. He signed the bill and AB 301 became law.


If any class of public employees understands the importance of constitutional rights, it has to be the peace officer. Every search or arrest brings into play constitutional issues surrounding the action.


Peace officers are sued, disciplined, arrested and have had cases thrown out of court because of the officer's alleged violations of these rights, regardless of intent. Although many enlightened managers supported laws that would offer the same protection to their officers, it took the rank-and-file to make it happen.


Today these rights are taken for granted by many officers. Some merely assume that AB 301 will protect them from illegal indiscriminate actions by their employers. But, as is the case for freedom, rights are hard won and easily lost without a strong group of people willing to fight to maintain them.


PORAC fought to obtain these rights for all California peace officers, and down through the years re-affirmed these rights through legislation and a strong Legal Defense Plan. It is to be hoped that future peace officers will continue the fight to keep them alive, and demonstrate the same obstinate aggressiveness as those cops did a quarter of a century ago.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rick Baratta is a past-general manager of PORAC, past-editor of PORAC News, and was also one of the earliest association representatives.


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