New California AG Rob Bonta says criminal justice system is fundamentally broken. He wants to take a different approach

Written by Danielle Chiriguayo and Amy Ta, produced by Michell Eloy

On this one-year anniversary of the murder of George Floyd, local activists took to LA City Hall to commemorate Floyd’s life, and vigils and protests are happening elsewhere around the country. 

Last year, California passed legislation that requires the Office of the State Attorney General to investigate all police shootings that result in the death of an unarmed civilian. 

“We are absolutely committed to doing this right, making sure we have impartial, fair, comprehensive investigations with complete integrity,” Attorney General Rob Bonta tells KCRW. “That's what California deserves.”

He expects to investigate about 40 cases a year, but in February, the California Department of Justice said the state does not have enough funds to fully look into each case. Bonta says he is currently negotiating with Governor Gavin Newsom and the State Legislature to secure enough money to implement the new law. 

Bonta says he will also follow the footsteps of former California Attorney General Xavier Becerra in releasing police misconduct and shootings records.

A community-centered approach

Bonta’s priority is to focus on the well-being of Californians, he says.

“Too many people are being forced to drink dirty water or breathe unhealthy air — who live at the intersection of poverty and pollution. Too many folks are treated unfairly by a fundamentally broken criminal justice system. Too many folks are being cheated by big corporations. Too many folks are the victims of elder abuse or human trafficking. And too many folks are the victims of hate violence right now.”

He says that as attorney general, he wants to implement automatic record expungements, reform the money bail system, and end excessive sentencing. 

He also wants to make sure law enforcement responds to incidents “where they can keep us safe and protect us.” Meanwhile, mental health crises should be left to mental health professionals rather than police, he says. 

Right now, society is engulfed in both a racial justice reckoning and a law enforcement reckoning, which prompts a reexamination of how police can best contribute to their communities, Bonta says. 

He adds that non-law enforcement responses could be a better fit to certain incidents, such as drug addiction and homelessness.  

A rise in gun violence

In LA, homicides are up 26% over last year and 45% compared to 2019, while shootings are up 67% over last year and 47% over 2019. 

Bonta says he is a strong proponent of common sense gun laws that address what he calls “Americans’ disease of gun violence.” 

He adds he’ll continue the use of the Armed Prohibited Persons System (APPS), which takes away guns from those who are legally banned from possessing them. 

“We identify where they are. We knock on their door. We ask for the guns to be surrendered to us, and we remove the guns from their possession. ... There's not one panacea or or single action that will address the gun violence challenges that we have in California. So we need to consider any and all approaches that are common sense, that are fair, and that help make us safer with respect to gun violence in the state.”