Former state lawmaker Rob Bonta officially became California attorney general on Friday, occupying a role that has served as a springboard for some of the state’s most powerful politicians.
Mr Bonta was the last of three high-profile appointments by Governor Gavin Newsom in what observers have described as the most significant reshuffle of Democratic power the state has seen in years. The fact that Mr Newsom now has close allies in three of the state’s top posts is likely to pay off as he campaigns to keep his job in a recall election later this year.
But political calculus aside, the attorney general has broad power to shape the state’s criminal justice agenda – a task that has taken on increased urgency amid a growing awareness of racism and justice. police violence.
During his second full day of work, I spoke with Mr. Bonta about his priorities. Our conversation has been edited and condensed.
Yesterday your office announced that you would disclose more data on gun violence to researchers and the public. What else is on the agenda in the coming weeks?
Let me start by saying that it is a lifelong honor and privilege to be appointed to this position. I see the role of the People’s Advocate, to fight for ordinary people, to protect them from abuse by those in power. This is my frame.
I want my mandate as GA to be defined by transparency and openness.
That’s why it was really important for us to do it yesterday – to help researchers study and identify actions that can help save lives and fight the epidemic of gun violence. And there will be other areas where we promote these principles.
Too many people are deceived by businesses. People are forced to drink dirty water or breathe dirty air. So many people are suffering from parts of our criminal justice system. We are also in a state of emergency with our Asian and Pacific Islander community over hate violence.
I wanted to quickly come back to the other areas where you think there could be more openness and transparency.
Two things are areas of interest and priority.
We want to make sure that we disclose police personnel records in a consistent manner, as required by Senate Bill 1421, and we make sure we do so legally, without violating anyone’s right to privacy. But we are committed to the letter and the spirit of this law. That’s the point. I voted for it – I was in the Legislature when it was proposed.
Another area is using the data we have at the Department of Justice to help automatically erase criminal records that can be erased, and not force individuals to know first that they are eligible and then to make an assessment. punctual request and to go through. the hoops. The law gives them that right, so let’s ensure that right.
What role do you think your office should play in addressing anti-Asian violence and harassment?
Right now it’s really important for Californians to know that the Attorney General sees the community under attack and values the API community. For me – I am the community. It’s personal.
There are a lot of levers to pull, but there is no panacea.
I will be holding meetings with law enforcement officials statewide to make sure they are supported in how they identify and investigate hate crimes. And then, to figure out how to move forward using tools, we need to hold the perpetrators of hateful violence accountable and support the victims.
It can take different forms. Language, mental health and trauma-informed care are needed. And we must help build trust between community organizations and law enforcement.
You also come at a pivotal moment in criminal justice – Derek Chauvin was convicted of murdering George Floyd last week. And since last year, your office has increased responsibility to investigate police murders. Tell me how you approach this part of the job.
I think it was a good start for people at the moment. The work continues.
The vast majority of law enforcement officers are determined to respond to what we need so badly these days: rebuilding trust between law enforcement and our communities. Accountability is part of building that trust.
Our law enforcement agencies need support and training to do the things we ask them to do, such as community policing, de-escalation, tackling implicit bias, or tackling hate crime..
And yes, under a bill that I supported, the attorney general’s office has a clear obligation to investigate, collect evidence, and make an indictment decision on all shootings involving officers who resulted in the death of an unarmed Californian. Historically, this represented around 40 cases per year. So we are defending our division to do it and do it right.
It might be easy for Californians to forget that you will be in the election next year. And on the first full day of your tenure, the Sacramento County District Attorney, Anne Marie Schubert, announced that she will run against you. How would you respond to his claims that the policies you have supported are harming victims of crime and harming public safety?
I deeply respect our democracy and what the voters decide will be their decision. But I won’t be overwhelmed. I have never been and I will not be there. I think my approach, my values, my vision, the things I’m fighting for, the change I’m looking for, is what is going to resonate with Californians all over the state.
Are you worried that Governor Newsom’s recall effort will impact your campaign as someone closely related to him?
They’re trying a one in a million chance of trying to get a Republican governor in Blue California. And that won’t happen.
I think he made courageous, thoughtful and appropriate appointments. He has put in place leaders who represent communities that haven’t always had access to certain places and opportunities, and he knows we need change.
I don’t want to comment on myself, but Senator Alex Padilla and Dr Shirley Weber (whom Mr Newsom named the next California Senator and Secretary of State) are inspiring leaders, and I think that l ‘will help during the recall election, because it shows its values.