During a visit to the Southern Californian city of Gardena on Thursday, Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law a bill that would remove certain immunity provisions for police officers and prohibit those convicted of a felony from returning to work as a peace officer.
Senate Bill 2, authored by Senator Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), will now 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 new law, if former officers are convicted of a felony, they can never return to any kind of peace officer position. Those who are later found to be innocent, or if their conviction is reversed or expunged, can return to duty. 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 will 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 will supply the state with a list of current and former peace officers who have disqualifying felony and misdemeanor convictions, allowing the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) to take the necessary action against the officers. A 9-member review board will also be set up to review decertification cases, with recent amendments adding stronger standards for those on the board, such as a 40 hour decertification training course.
Senator Bradford, who wrote the bill to remove officers who have misconduct issues and to help ensure police accountability in California, initially saw a lot of opposition against the bill, most notably from members of law enforcement who threatened to have it not pass. To quell any concerns, the Senator added in extensive amendments to SB 2 since being introduced in December of last year.
Bradford’s effort was ultimately successful, with SB 2 passing 49-21 in the Assembly and 28-9 in the Senate in early September.
SB 2 signed into law
During a speech at a Rowley Park gym in Gardena, Newsom noted his support for the new law, as well as for the also signed SB 16 law that gives the public greater access to police records, focusing on the dangers of racial profiling, injustice, and the excessive use of force.
“Today marks another step toward healing and justice for all,” said Governor Newsom on Thursday. “Too many lives have been lost due to racial profiling and excessive use of force. We cannot change what is past, but we can build accountability, root out racial injustice and fight systemic racism. We are all indebted to the families who have persevered through their grief to continue this fight and work toward a more just future.”
Multiple lawmakers followed up with remarks agreeing with Newsom, including Senator Bradford, Attorney General Rob Bonta, and Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley).
“California has one of the most progressive criminal justice systems in the nation,” said Senator Bradford on Thursday. “But for too long, problematic officers that commit heinous acts in one department are either not held accountable and continue to be a problem for that community, or are punished, but able to find employment in another department. This rinse and repeat style of accountability has led to the continuous erosion of community trust. At long last, California finally joins the 46 other states with processes for the decertification of bad officers. I’m proud to have authored this landmark bill for California, which honors Kenneth Ross Jr. and the many others who have had their lives taken by police who abuse their power. My deep appreciation goes out to the families, community organizations, advocates and legislators who were willing to stand up and support this positive change.”
While the passage of SB 2 was celebrated by many lawmakers and several social justice and anti-police brutality organizations such as Black Lives Matter on Thursday and Friday, many law enforcement members decried the laws passage, saying that the loss of some immunity provisions, and members of the public largely being the deciders on whether an officer should stay or go through the review board, will make policing more difficult.
“This is yet another law passed this year that does a lot of damage against police officers whose long term-effects were not fully looked into,” said former police officer Eduardo Diaz to the Globe on Friday. “Having a lot of civilians choose whether or not to keep a cop sounds good to many members of the public, but in reality you’re picking very biased people, like family members who lost loved ones to police shootings. How do you think they’re going to vote? It’s all stacked against us.”
“Bad cops should be removed, and we already have pieces in place to get rid of those with felonies or actions unbecoming of them. This bill just kicks down the door and allow those who never put their life on the line or understand what pressures there are to be a police officer to make the decisions. If this keeps up, we’re going to be seeing a lot of police officers either switching jobs or moving out of California. Police Departments in California already have low recruiting numbers and not enough police on the force. This is only going to make things worse.”
SB 2 goes into effect January 1st.