By David M. Greenwald
Los Angeles, CA – Forty-six states prior to California had a way to decertify police officers who engaged in misconduct, but, prior to Thursday, California was one of the few where there was no way to prevent a police officer engaging in a pattern of misconduct from being able to serve as a police officer.
That is the case the no more. Governor Gavin Newsom signed a package of police reform bills—most notably SB 2, which creates a system to investigate and revoke or suspend peace officer certification for serious misconduct and SB 16, which increases transparency over peace officer misconduct records, among others.
“Today marks another step toward healing and justice for all,” said Governor Newsom. “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.”
Under SB 2, written by Senator Steven Bradford, it “creates a system within the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) to investigate and revoke or suspend peace officer certification for serious misconduct, including excessive force, sexual assault, demonstration of bias and dishonesty.”
“California has one of the most progressive criminal justice systems in the nation,” said Senator Bradford.
“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,” Bradford said.
He added, “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.”
At the signing ceremony Fouzia ALmarou, the mother of Kenneth Ross, Jr., for whom the bill was named, joined Senator Bradford and Governor Newsom.
“My son, Kenneth Ross, Jr., was murdered for doing nothing, but he’s with me spiritually and why I fight for change,” Ms. Almarou said. “Cops who shoot and terrorize people don’t belong in our communities. This law is going to protect other families, and I hope and pray it will keep other parents from ever having to feel the pain I do.”
The signing was seen as a major victory for those who have lost their loved ones to police violence.
“The governor’s signature on SB 2 finally brings California in line with the 46 other states that already have systems to decertify police officers who engage in serious misconduct, including excessive force, sexual misconduct and dishonesty,” a group called Let Us Live Coalition said in a release Thursday.
“It’s the hard work and labor of love by the families that got this bill passed because when we unite, fight and advocate, we win,” Uncle Bobby X, the uncle of Oscar Grant, who was killed in 2009 by a Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer, said. “SB 2 now clears the way to remove officers from our streets who harm our communities and puts one more brick in the road to a reimagination of public safety – a road lovingly built in honor of people like my nephew Oscar who had their lives stolen by cops who abuse their power.”
Senator Bradford added, “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.”
Advocates have now turned their focus toward a successful implementation of the bill.
“The Let Us Live Coalition believes that the decertification process will not be effective if it lacks representation of the people the policing system has most impacted. Thus, they will be fighting to ensure there is follow-through on the strong preference to include family members impacted by police violence on the advisory panel as outlined in the bill,” the group said.
In the meantime, SB 16 provides an important expansion to the seminal SB 1421 authored by Skinner and put into law in 2019.
SB 16 by Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) increases transparency of peace officer misconduct records pertaining to findings of unreasonable or excessive use of force, discriminatory or prejudiced behavior, failure to intervene when witnessing excessive use of force by a peace officer, or participation in unlawful searches and arrests.
SB 16 also opens access to records on officers who failed to intervene when another officer used unreasonable or excessive force and ensures that officers with a history of misconduct can’t just quit their jobs, keep their records secret, and move on to continue bad behavior in another jurisdiction.
“Trust in law enforcement erodes when police misconduct is kept secret and officers who’ve acted badly are allowed to avoid consequences,” said Senator Skinner. “SB 2 and SB 16 will help restore public trust in California policing. By signing these bills, Governor Newsom has ensured that police who commit serious misconduct will no longer have the privilege of wearing a badge and that we, the public, have the right to know when officers use excessive force or engage in racist or biased behavior.”
The new law:
- Opens access to sustained findings on officers who used force that was unreasonable or excessive or failed to intervene when another officer used unreasonable or excessive force
- Provides access to sustained findings on officers who engaged in racist or biased behavior or conducted unlawful arrests or searches
- Increases the length of time agencies must keep records of sustained findings of misconduct from five to 15 years
- Requires that records be released if an officer quits before a misconduct investigation is complete
- Mandates agencies, before hiring a candidate who has prior law enforcement experience, to review that officer’s prior history of complaints, disciplinary hearings, and uses of force
- Bars agencies from claiming attorney-client privilege to keep otherwise public records secret
- Requires records to be made public no later than 45 days from the date of a request for their release
- Prohibits agencies from charging more than the actual cost of copying records
“Bad behavior goes unchecked when police can operate in secret. We have the right to know if and when a local officer engages in misconduct,” Sen. Skinner said. “SB 16 sends a clear message that officers who engage in racist or discriminatory behavior are not welcome in our communities.”
Governor Newsom also signed AB 26 by Assemblymember Chris Holden (D-Pasadena) which creates guidelines for police officers to intercede and immediately report if another officer is using excessive force.
Also, he signed AB 89 by Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), which raises the minimum age to become a police officer to 21 and will enhance education requirements.
He additionally signed AB 490 by Assemblymember Mike Gipson (D-Carson), which bans technique and transport methods that involve risk of positional asphyxia.