California advances bill to remove bad officers’ badges – The Vacaville Reporter
By Don Thompson, The Associated Press
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – Bad law enforcement officers could lose their badges permanently under a bill introduced by California lawmakers on Friday, a year after a similar measure died in the final hours of the legislative session.
California remains one of four states with no way to withdraw its officer certification despite nationwide protests over the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis that prompted reform efforts.
The State Assembly on a 46-18 vote approved what has become this legislative session’s marquee criminal justice reform measure, sending a watered-down version back to the Senate for a final vote before the adjournment of the legislature for the year on September 10.
“This is not an anti-police bill. This is a liability bill. Without any responsibility, we lose the integrity of the badge and the link with the community is severed, ”said Democratic MP Akilah Weber, who brought the bill to the Assembly.
The amended bill, she said, “provides due process for officers, provides necessary community representation and ensures that good officers are not decertified.”
Law enforcement agencies and those opposed to the bill agreed that the state needed a way to weed out bad officers.
But they objected that Democratic Senator Steven Bradford’s bill is flawed because it relies on a nine-member disciplinary board with just two police representatives and seven members with either professional or personal backgrounds related to police accountability. .
“It is extremely unfair,” said Republican MP Kelly Seyarto, one of those from the two parties speaking in the opposition. “None of the 46 other states has a similar makeup. … None of them are so unbalanced.
The measure recently received support from “More Than a Vote,” the advocacy group created by NBA star LeBron James and other black athletes.
The group urged members of the Assembly to pass the bill “so that a badge can no longer be used as a shield against liability. So that black communities can breathe.
The bill sparked an at times emotional debate, with Democratic Congressman Freddie Rodriguez saying he couldn’t back it for fear it would prompt officers, including his son, a Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriff, to ” to question oneself ”, to freeze when they have to act. , and be injured or killed.
“I, too, as an African American father of African American sons, am also concerned that they come home every night,” Democratic Congressman Reggie Jones-Sawyer replied. “There are enough protections here to make sure that (the officers) don’t get trapped,” he added.
Under the bill, the state would create a new compulsory state license, or certification, which could then be revoked so officers cannot simply move to another police department.
The Police Decertification Bill would give the State Commission on Standards and Training of Peace Officers the power to revoke officers’ eligibility for serious misconduct – including excessive use of law enforcement. force, sexual assault, intimidation of witnesses, making a false arrest or report, or participating in a law enforcement gang. .
Officers could also lose their certification for “displaying bias” based on race, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation or mental disability, among other criteria.
Republican Assembly Member Tom Lackey, a former California Highway Patrol officer, was among the opponents who said the definition of wrongdoing is too broad and too vague.
Bradford relaxed some of his bill’s requirements after criticism from law enforcement and other lawmakers.
He first proposed that four of the members of the advisory board have a background related to “police misconduct” before changing the wording to “police liability”. And instead of requiring two members to be victims or family members, the bill now requires careful thought to include those representatives.
Another Assembly amendment requires a two-thirds vote to withdraw an officer’s certification, and that officials must have clear and convincing evidence of wrongdoing.
The measure would have initially obliged the commission to adopt the recommendation of the advisory council. It now demands that the commission “consider” the recommendation of the advisory board and refer any action against an officer to a newly created peace officer accountability division for due process.
Additional Assembly changes allow the commission to suspend an officer’s license as a lesser alternative to decertification of the officer; clarify what constitutes serious misconduct; require 40 hours of decertification training for board members; and make it clear that officers retain their constitutional rights, including freedom of expression.
Bradford and other supporters said his bill was not biased against officers as the 18-member commission is mostly made up of law enforcement professionals.
The division would now review officer investigations conducted by local law enforcement agencies under the amended bill, although it could still choose to conduct its own investigations.
The same bill places new limits on police immunity from prosecution for civil rights abuses, although Bradford has had to drastically cut that part of his bill in response to concerns voiced by fellow Democrats.
It would only end what Bradford has called “three of the most egregious immunities commonly invoked by law enforcement” – tampering with arrests, failing to provide medical care or injuring a prisoner.
The League of California Cities was among the opponents, arguing that the bill “would eliminate the federal doctrine of qualified immunity and create a largely impractical peace officer decertification process.”
“I was heartbroken last year that this bill could not be passed by this body in the same year that millions more people protested than at any time in American history. Democrat MP Isaac Bryan said. “It’s a stain on this body. It is a stain that we can remove today.
The same California commission once had the option to revoke agent certification until the legislature removed that power in 2003. This left it up to local law enforcement agencies to decide whether agents should be terminated, but they could often just get jobs in different police departments.
Other states that do not have a statewide decertification process are Hawaii, New Jersey, and Rhode Island.