A new proposal by state Democrats would create a decertification process for officers convicted or fired due to misconduct, and make it easier for victims to sue in state court.
SACRAMENTO, Calif (CN) — Law enforcement officers convicted of serious crimes or fired for misconduct could be stripped of their badges under policing reforms announced Tuesday by California lawmakers.
Along with creating a decertification process for crooked officers, state Democrats and a coalition of civil rights groups want to prop the victims of police violence by nixing longstanding immunity provisions that shield peace officers and other public employees from lawsuits.
Despite a similar measure stalling last year, state Senator Steven Bradford believes there is enough momentum remaining from the nationwide George Floyd protests to enact significant reform in a state that has been slow to update its policing policies.
“Californians want more than just superficial change,” said Bradford, D-Gardena. “We don’t want to nibble around the edges; I think not only California but the nation is ready for substantive change when it comes to law enforcement and especially when it comes to communities of color.”
Under Senate Bill 2, the state would create an advisory board consisting of both members of the public and law enforcement to review allegations of officer misconduct. In conjunction with the existing Peace Officer Standards Accountability Advisory Board, the new board would have the power to revoke an officer’s certification and make all related records public.
Currently California is one of four states along with Hawaii, New Jersey and Rhode Island without official processes to revoke the certificates of disreputable officers. Critics say officers fired for misconduct can easily take advantage of the loophole by simply signing on with another agency.
Getting a decertification process on the books would not only rid the state of bad cops, but help give victims and their families’ closure, said Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Oakland.
“California often does go first and boldly leads the pack, but not when it comes to decertification of law enforcement officers,” Bonta said during a virtual press conference. “We have some catching up to do which will have important implications for trust in our communities and the safety of our communities.”
This isn’t the first time Bradford is making a decertification push. Last year, he carried a bill that cleared the Senate but didn’t come up for a vote in the Assembly on the final day of a truncated session.
Critics, chiefly state police officer and sheriff organizations, argued the current system allows for adequate oversight of the state’s nearly 80,000 sworn officers through district attorneys and the attorney general. They claim removing government immunity would create lingering doubt in officers minds’ during chaotic situations, knowing potential missteps could result in civil lawsuits, and say the proposal lacked due process.
But Bradford said the newest version, inspired by the death of Kenneth Ross Jr. who was gunned down by a Gardena police officer in 2018, has been amended to address the officers’ due process concerns and won’t result in good cops losing their badges.
“[Ross] grew up in my neighborhood, right around the corner from me,” Bradford said of the 25-year old black man killed in broad daylight. “It was an officer who transferred from Orange County after being involved in three other questionable shootings.”
Notable actions considered serious misconduct under SB 2 include sexual assault, race discrimination, falsifying evidence, coercing confessions, excessive force and use of drugs on duty.
Attorney Carl Douglas, who represents Ross’ family in an underlying federal matter, says SB 2 carries critical changes that will allow victims to better pursue civil claims in state court. He says it will align the state’s Tom Bane Civil Rights Act with the federal version by removing the requirement that plaintiffs show specific intent in wrongful death and other law enforcement matters.
“We are intending not to shake the tree, but simply to make the Bane Act more lawful, more hospital to litigants like [Ross Jr.’s mother],” Douglas said.
The recently amended legislation has yet to receive a hearing in 2021 but will be assigned likely to the Senate Public Safety Committee. If it clears committee, it will require majority approval in the Senate and Assembly.
Asked about the potential of law enforcement groups uniting to freeze the bill like last year, Bradford said he’s confident in the influence supporters like the ACLU of California and Black Lives Matter Los Angeles carry themselves.
“I mean, they still carry a lot of sway,” Bradford said of the police unions. “But I think the community has a bigger stick if it’s used in the correct way.”