In the last two months, we have seen people across the country take to the streets to demand an end to police brutality and ask for accountability. However, California is one of only five states that has no process to decertify abusive cops from its streets—even those found guilty of serious misconduct.
Other states, such as Florida and Georgia, have led the nation in police officer decertification by inquiring into misconduct without regard to conviction for certain offenses.
Decertification ensures those cops cannot be hired as police officers somewhere else. A few years ago, a police officer in Davis who Tased two college students at the Glacier Point Apartments in Davis ended up being hired by the Galt Police Department, over the objections of officials in Davis.
“Without a strong decertification process, we have allowed cops who have been fired, or resign while under investigation, to bounce from community to community while still being able to wield their power over others,” the ACLU wrote—noting that in 2012 the City of Vallejo paid $4.2 million to settle a case of police brutality by two officers, and those two cops are now employed in Richmond, CA.
SB 731, sponsored by Senator Steven Bradford, would prevent such a practice.
“Over 200 other professions in California have licenses that can be revoked if they violate their licensing rules. California gives police officers a license to kill without the ability to revoke it if they abuse their authority,” the ACLU noted.
“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. “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.
SB 731, the Kenneth Ross Jr. Police Decertification Act of 2020, would create a statewide process to automatically revoke the certification of a peace officer following the conviction of certain serious crimes or termination of employment due to specified misconduct. In addition, this bill would strengthen California’s key civil rights law to prevent law enforcement abuses and other civil rights violations. SB 731 is also included in the California Legislative Black Caucus’ package of police reform legislation.
SB 731 will keep communities safe and keep officers who commit misconduct off the streets by:
- Establishing a statewide process to automatically decertify officers who are fired for specified misconduct such as excessive force, sexual misconduct and dishonesty.
- Giving the Civil Rights Enforcement Section of the California Department of Justice the power to independently investigate allegations of misconduct and decertify those officers who resign before they are fired.
- Increasing accountability in various ways, such as requiring law enforcement to report all fired officers, requiring hiring agencies to gather information on reasons for an officer’s separation, and placing officers on a national database for more transparency.
SB 731 will keep communities safe and keep officers who commit misconduct off the streets by the following:
This bill would also make needed changes to the Bane Civil Rights Act to disrupt qualified immunity for police officers in California. Qualified immunity shields police officers from legal responsibility for civil rights violations and makes it nearly impossible for families to successfully sue for civil damages in police abuse cases in federal court.
SB 731 will provide Californians a strong state alternative to the commonly used federal civil rights law to remedy civil rights violations. For the thousands of impacted family members facing the trauma caused by police violence, this change will ensure that families can sue police officers for the killing of their loved one. This opportunity to hold these officers accountable could give families a sense of closure with officers being held at fault for the killings.
Additionally, the bill will correct misinterpretations and impediments to full civil rights enforcement using the Tom Bane Civil Rights Act and bringing it into conformity with federal law. Given the issue of qualified immunity at the federal level, strengthening the Bane Act will be an essential resource to defend California civil rights.
“The future of policing in California is dependent on ensuring that officers are held accountable and equitable to those they serve and protect,” said Senator Bradford. “It doesn’t matter what race you are, we must all come together to demand a fairer criminal justice.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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