A bill to create a process and commission to decertify law enforcement officers who have had multiple incidents of misconduct or excessive force was passed in the Assembly Public Safety Committee on Tuesday.
Senate Bill 2, authored by Senator Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), would remove some immunity provisions for law enforcement and peace officers, as well as public entities employing them who are being sued because of something they did.
Under the bill, if former officers are convicted of a felony, they can never return to any kind of peace officer position, although those who are later found to be innocent, or if their conviction is reversed or otherwise expunged, it can be reversed. Likewise, applicants to law enforcement positions would be disqualified immediately if they are found to have committed crimes against public justice, such as bribery, falsification of records, and perjury, or if they had previously had peace officer certification revoked.
The law would also apply to those whose disqualifying convictions were commuted while employed as a peace officer in other states or in a federal capacity. The Department of Justice would supply the state with a list of current and former peace officers who have disqualifying felony and misdemeanor convictions.
To facilitate this, SB 2 will also create a 9-member Peace Officer Standards Accountability Division, which would review officer decertification cases, and the Peace Officer Standards Accountability Advisory Board, which would hold public meetings about officer decertifications and give a recommendation on what action should be taken. All records in the case, especially those records that are tied to a decertification, would be made public and would be retained for at least 30 years.
Senator Bradford wrote the bill to remove officers who have shown misconduct and ensures that they will never get another law enforcement job, to create better policing, to make police officers more accountable, and to ensure that police misconduct incidents, such as those that spurred the George Floyd protests last year, would be less likely to happen in the future.
“A sensible decertification bill benefits us all,” said Senator Bradford on Tuesday. “It will encourage officers to do their job properly and with respect and move us all along toward better policing in our communities.”
Other lawmakers simply noted the need of such a law.
“We are forced to take action as a legislature because anyone paying attention has witnessed a breakdown in trust between law enforcement and communities across this nation,” explained Assemblywoman Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles). “Police officers seem to escape accountability for the violence they commit.”
Large divide forms over Advisory Board Member makeup
Many supporters of the bill, including police accountability and civil rights groups, praised the bills passage in the committee on Tuesday and Wednesday.
“Look at all the cases where they had problem officers,” said Shara Warren, a lawyer who has defended members of Black Lives Matter (BLM) in court and instituted civil rights cases against law enforcement officers, to the Globe on Wednesday. “It’s not just George Floyd in Minneapolis that spurred this. You have Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Oscar Grant in San Francisco, Philando Castile up in Minnesota, and so many more. Police officers with prior issues of excessive force and misconduct killed all of these people. If they had not been allowed to join, at least some of these people would still be here today.”
“SB 2 isn’t saying to get rid of all police, or is even pushing for defunding. It’s just making sure that the bad apples don’t go into any of the barrels. You help ensure people’s safety this way, as well as help the police get a better image by having a better stock of cops. Win-win.”
While GOP lawmakers in Sacramento have agreed with significant parts of the bill, many still oppose SB 2 over certain parts of the bill. The main point of contention, and reason why 9 Senators vetoed the bill during the 26-9 Senate vote in May, has been largely due to questions over the Peace Officer Standards Accountability Advisory Board. Specifically, the board’s makeup of 7 out of 9 non-police board members, including 2 that members that have either been victims of police in the past, or family members of victims, has been contentious.
“The inclusion of two people to the advisory board who have either been subjected to the use of force or have family members who have been injured by police is especially egregious,” said Assemblyman Tom Lackey (R-Palmdale), who had been a member of the California Highway Patrol prior to being elected. “Victims of malpractice do not have substantial representation on medical boards.”
Other opponents of the Board agreed.
“We’re not against removing or decertifying officers who have truly done bad things, but allowing citizens, especially citizens who have been involved in such incidents and can’t be impartial, is disastrous,” expressed Lucas Golding, a lawyer who has represented law enforcement officers in the past, to the Globe on Wednesday. “It’s the equivalent of having a few members of a jury being related to the defendant or being friends with them. It’s not good.”
The lingering board question proved to still divide the Assembly Public Safety Committee on Tuesday, with a 6-2 vote made firmly across party lines.
SB 2 is expected to be voted on in the Assembly Appropriations Committee in the coming weeks.
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