A new bill that would require police officers in California to hold a bachelor’s degree or turn 25 was introduced in the Assembly this week.
Assembly Bill 89, authored by Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), would specifically raise the current minimum peace officer age from 18 to 25. The lone exception for being allowed at a younger age would be if they hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university.
AB 89, also known as the Peace officer Education and Age Conditions for Employment Act, or ‘PEACE Act’, was written by Assemblyman Jones-Sawyer to ensure that police officers would have higher levels of decision making and would be less likely to use excessive force, ostensibly as a reaction to the death of George Floyd and other similar incidents earlier this year. He specifically cited a Police Quarterly study that found that college educated officers were less likely to use force in dealing with suspects and also found that they had a better success rate at peacefully detaining suspects.
“This data-driven bill relies on years of study and new understandings of brain development to ensure that only those officers capable of high level decision-making and judgment in tense situations are entrusted with working in our communities and correctional facilities,” said the Assemblyman in a statement on Monday. “Excessive force at the hands of law enforcement that leads to grave injury or death not only tears apart families and communities but erodes trust in law enforcement. My community, like many others is all too familiar with police violence and physical force.
“The new standards will transform departments across the state and mark a transition in addressing the root causes behind excessive use of force by focusing on a trainee’s ability to utilize critical thinking in dangerous situations.”
The language in AB 89 also makes this clear as the reasoning, stating that “Law enforcement officers are required to make split-second decisions to protect the health and safety of the public and address dangerous situations. A young adult with a still developing brain may struggle during events that require quick decision making and judgments.”
Opposition against AB 89
While the bill has been applauded by many, including those in favor of law enforcement reform, many police groups have come out against the bill. Assemblyman Jones-Sawyer has long been a critic of ‘excessive’ law enforcement policies, with many law enforcement groups and unions responding in kind to his attempts at limiting them.
“Many are afraid that this will lead to a drop in recruitment or lead to more officers being less willing to use force against suspects in dangerous situations,” explained former police officer and current security company co-owner Kes Davis. “It will also delay experience. Rather than having a rookie cop being teamed with an older partner so that by the age of 25 they know what to do, if this is passed we’re going to see a bunch of applicants trying to become cops who had only worked as security guards, or if we’re lucky, were MPs in the military. And, joining at 25, they’ll have a later start at learning the ropes.
“The bill is trying to make it almost mandatory for a college degree before joining up. It does help, I’m not denying that. Especially if it’s a criminal justice or psychology degree. But it’s denying many otherwise qualified people from joining up and may even discourage many from being police.”
If passed, California would have the highest age requirement for law enforcement in the United States and would only be the fifth state, joining Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, and North Dakota, in requiring a college degree to become a police officer earlier.
AB 89 is expected to be moved to committee in the next few weeks.
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