California enacts law to strip badges from bad officers

California

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) – Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation Thursday geared towards implementing reforms to policing policies statewide.

Senate Bill 2, authored by Senate President pro Tempore Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, and Senator Steven Bradford, D-Gardena, would create a system to investigate and decertify or suspend police officers for misconduct such as excessive force, sexual assault or the “demonstration of bias and dishonesty.”

“We are in a crisis of trust when it comes to law enforcement right now, across the state, across the nation,” said Attorney General Rob Bonta, Newsom’s fellow Democrat who supported the bills. “We’re delivering concrete solutions from banning dangerous holds that lead to asphyxia to multiple other mechanisms that improve accountability and oversight and transparency.”

Senate Bill 16, authored by Senator Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, aims to increase transparency surrounding police misconduct records regarding things such as excessive force, prejudiced behavior, unlawful searches, and failing to intervene in another officer’s misconduct.

“Today marks another step toward healing and justice for all,” Newsom said. “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.”

Additional bills signed Thursday include AB 26, which creates guidelines for officers to intervene and report misconduct, AB 89 which raises the minimum age for officers from 18 to 21, and AB 490 which “bans technique and transport methods that involve risk of positional asphyxia.”

Newsom also signed a measure setting statewide standards for when officers can use “kinetic projectiles” like rubber bullets and chemical agents or tear gas to break up peaceful demonstrations. Police also are prohibited from aiming rubber bullets, beanbags and foam rounds at anyone’s head, neck or other vital areas.

During the 2020 racial justice protests some demonstrators acting peacefully were injured by rubber bullets and other projectiles.

The new law also requires training officers to use the less-lethal weapons only when someone is at risk of death or serious injury, or “to bring an objectively dangerous and unlawful situation safely and effectively under control.” Officers will have to give verbal warnings and try other de-escalation tactics first.

Police groups opposed the measure, arguing the less-than-lethal tools are needed to prevent violence and are often better than the alternatives.

The law allowing the decertification of poor officers comes 18 years after lawmakers stripped away that power from a state police standards commission.

That left it to local agencies to decide if officers should be fired, but critics said they could often simply get a job in a different department.

The legislation will create a mandatory new state license, or certification, that can be permanently revoked. Allowing decertification will end “the wash, rinse, repeat cycle of police misconduct,” Democratic state Sen. Steven Bradford said.

“Many times it’s said Black and Brown people hate the police,” said Bradford, who is Black. “We don’t hate the police. We fear the police. We fear the police due to lack of trust.”

His new law was driven in part by last year’s murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis policeman, yet the legislation stalled at the end of last year’s session, as did the rubber bullets bill.

The decertification measure still struggled to gain support in the Assembly this year until Bradford agreed to allow suspending the license as a lesser punishment and beefed up other safeguards.

Unions representing officers in Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Jose declared victory with those changes to a bill they said would originally have allowed ending officers’ careers “for infractions as minor as a jaywalking ticket.”

Law enforcement organizations and Republican lawmakers objected that the bill is still biased because just two of the nine members of a new disciplinary board will represent police, while the remaining seven will have professional or personal backgrounds related to police accountability.

Supporters including Bradford said that isn’t stacked against officers because the 18-member Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training is mostly composed of law enforcement professionals and will make the final decision.

Both California Police Chiefs Association president Abdul Pridgen and Brian Marvel, president of the rank-and-file Peace Officers Research Association of California, said they hope to continue working out what they say are lingering flaws and vagueness in the bill, while supporting the overall goal.

“We cannot allow officers who demonstrate gross misconduct to continue to be members of the law enforcement profession; their licenses must be revoked,” Marvel said.

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