Monday, February 9, 2009
C.A. Rejects Schools’ Reimbursement Claim for Police
By a MetNews Staff Writer
School districts that maintain their own police forces are not entitled to state reimbursement for the costs of complying with the Public Safety Officers Procedural Bill of Rights Act, the Third District Court of Appeal ruled Friday.
Reversing Sacramento Superior Court Judge Lloyd G. Connelly, the court granted a writ of mandate sought by the Department of Finance and held that the Commission on State Mandates was wrong when it ordered reimbursement under Proposition 4.
The 1979 initiative amended the state Constitution to provide, subject to specified exceptions, that if the Legislature “mandates a new program or higher level of service on any local government,” the state must provide the funds necessary to comply. Under implementing legislation, the Commission on State Mandates determines when Proposition 4 applies, and it is then up to lawmakers to either provide the necessary funds or lift the mandate.
The issue of reimbursement for compliance with the Bill of Rights Act, sometimes called POBRA, was raised by the City of Sacramento, which in a 1995 test claim argued that the act’s requirements regarding investigation of police misconduct and due process for officers facing discipline were an unfunded mandate within the meaning of Proposition 4.
The commission held a held a hearing in 1999 and decided that some of the act’s provisions exceeded state and federal constitutional requirements and imposed a state mandate on cities, counties, school districts, and special districts.
In 2005, the Legislature enacted Government Code Sec. 3301, requiring the commission to review the decision on the test claim, as applied to districts not legally required to maintain police forces, in light of applicable court decisions, including San Diego Unified School District v. Commission on State Mandates (2004) 33 Cal. 4th 859. The Supreme Court said there that certain costs incurred by school districts during expulsion proceedings were reimbursable mandates only in cases where state law required that the district pursue expulsion rather than lesser discipline.
In 2006, the commission held a public hearing under the new law and determined that POBRA imposes a reimbursable mandate upon cities and counties, which are required to maintain police departments, and upon school districts and special districts.
Although school districts are not required to have their own policing agencies, and most in fact do not, the commission reasoned that because the districts are mandated by state law to provide safe schools, a determination that the district cannot do so without having its own police force means that the POBRA requirements are mandates upon that district just as if it were a city or county.
Connelly, in denying the Department of Finance’s petition for writ of mandate, agreed with the commission.
“As a practical matter, the establishment of a police department and the employment of peace officers by school districts, community college districts and other local agencies is not an optional program: when the districts and agencies decide to exercise their statutory authority to employ peace officers, they do not have a genuine choice of alternative measures that meet their agency-specific needs for security and law enforcement, such as a large urban school district’s need for security and police officers to supplement city police or a municipal water district’s need for park rangers with the authority and powers conferred upon peace officers to issue citations and make arrests in district recreational facilities,” the judge wrote.
But Justice M. Kathleen Butz, writing for the Court of Appeal, said there was no legal or practical compulsion for school districts or special districts to hire police officers. “[T]he districts in issue are authorized, but not required, to provide their own peace officers and do not have provision of police protection as an essential and basic function,” Butz wrote. “It is not essential unless there is a showing that, as a practical matter, exercising the authority to hire peace officers is the only reasonable means to carry out their core mandatory functions. As there is no such showing in the record, the Commission erred in finding that POBRA constitutes a state-mandated program for school districts and the special districts identified in Government Code section 3301.”
Justice Coleman Blease concurred, while Presiding Justice Arthur Scotland wrote a brief concurrence of his own.
“My instinct tells me the trial court was right in concluding that, even if such local districts are not compelled by law to hire peace officers to perform the districts’ core functions, they must do so ‘as a practical matter,’” the presiding justice wrote. “However, instinct is insufficient to support a legal conclusion.”
The case is Department of Finance v. Commission on State Mandates, 09 S.O.S. 746.
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