On Thursday, a bill that would require police officers to be certified and more liable for their actions while on the job met growing opposition in the Assembly.
Opposition mounts against SB 731
Senate Bill 731, authored by Senator Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), would create a commission that would oversee certifying and decertifying police officers. Beginning in 2021, police officers would need a certificate, renewable every two years, to work in a police department in California. Certification would be revoked if the officer in question is involved in major crimes such as use of excessive force, sexual assault, making a false arrest, or participating in a law enforcement gang. A Peace Officer Standards Accountability Division would also be created to oversee the investigation side of the new commission.
The board in charge, the Peace Officer Standards Accountability Advisory Board, would make proceedings open to the public. Any records that have to do with officer investigations would be made available to the public for 30 years
SB 731 would also make police standards higher, not allowing certification for those convicted of “an administrative, military, or civil judicial process as having committed, a violation of certain specified crimes against public justice, including the falsification of records, bribery, or perjury.” Police would also no longer have financial immunity if they are sued for their actions while working.
The sweeping bill, which gained a large amount of momentum and support following the death of George Floyd and subsequent protests in late May, had been written in February. The bill originally sought to bring more accountability to police and to bring police standards, especially ending the practice of police transferring to another Department scot-free after a major incident, up to the standards of police in 45 other states.
“This is an important moment for the country as well as for California. Our criminal justice system must be fundamentally built with equity and accountability in mind,” said Senator Bradford earlier this year. “It is unacceptable that a cycle of unanswered injustices exists, where officers fired for misconduct are rehired by another department, and very few are ever held accountable. This bill would make California a leading example for effective and comprehensive police officer accountability.”
The bill quickly moved through the Senate, including garnering a unanimous 38-0 floor vote in May.
Police groups and racial justice organizations double down on SB 731
However, as the bill closes in on the final floor votes, support for SB 731 has dwindled. Police groups, fearful of the negative changes of such a sweeping bill, have called up legislators. Many Assemblymembers and Senators, once all for the bill, have now been going against it, saying that it is too far-reaching and that other bills can give the reform needed.
With support falling, Senator Bradford has sounded off on many legislators, accusing many of only supporting reforms due to the tide of support post-George Floyd or to be in ‘photo ops’.
“We were quick to show up for photo ops, but when it comes to doing the real work some of them are not true believers,” said Senator Bradford this week. “This shouldn’t be a moment, but a true movement, and I hope they find the courage to do the right thing.
“Many times you have folks in our world, elected officials, who are there for the photo-op, the press conference, but it when it comes to standing up and doing the real thing, they fade to the shadows. They run from police when it comes to standing up to them. This is what has these folks in fear, the threat of the union coming after them.”
Many supporters of the bill have even gone on record about police unions being behind the wave against SB 731.
“The election is only a few months away now,” explained Black Lives Matter (BLM) organizer Marcus Hamilton to the Globe. “For urban candidates, not much can sway how they’re voting. And they already have the support of people out in the middle of nowhere. It’s the suburbs and more isolated cities, the people representing them, that they’re influencing.
“Police support for a candidate is still a strong force despite everything that happened this year. And we’ve been seeing, through our protests and coming out, that police in those areas have been getting a lot more support than police in cities like LA or Oakland
“This bill means a lot, and solves a lot of problems we have. But we’re getting crowded out by news of wildfires, and COVID-19 news, and the Trump election and the craziness there. Police are coming back in popularity, and they’re capitalizing on it now at such a crucial moment.”
“This is what we are going to accept as good policy making?”
Those who oppose SB 731, which included many police organizations, have said that while they aren’t opposed with some parts of the bill, such as decertification, the fact that civilian panels have the power to preside over decisions over officers futures, which could include members of the community inherently biased against them, would severely harm police departments.
“We’re going to have folks voting against officers because of the thoughts and feelings on past events,” said former police officer and current security speaker Howard Coe. “It would be like going in with a crooked jury. Family members of those harmed by police, for example, being in those seats deciding the fates of officers. How do you think they’re going to vote? That isn’t a fair system. And yet it was all lumped together here.”
“This is why many are questioning it now.”
Lawmakers during Wednesday’s Assembly Judiciary Committee vote echoed those sentiments.
“Seriously, this is what we are going to accept as good policy making?” exclaimed Assemblyman James Gallagher (R-Yuba City).
With many Assembly members now signaling a possible change of vote during the floor vote on the bill Monday, negotiations and possible last minute amendments are possible this weekend.