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California is one of just four states without such a system in place. A bill that would change that is awaiting Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signature.
Police officers in California could be stripped of their badges for sexual assault, racial bias, excessive force and other types of “serious misconduct” under a bill approved this month by state lawmakers.
The bill, awaiting a signature from Gov. Gavin Newsom, would grant the state’s law enforcement accrediting body—the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training, or POST—the authority to decertify law enforcement officers for serious misconduct. California is one of just four states without an existing process for decertification, a common practice designed to prevent police officers with bad records from bouncing from department to department.
While proponents say the legislation would help to improve officer accountability, critics, including law enforcement associations, argue that it goes too far and is unfair to police.
As written, the bill would require Newsom to create a nine-member Peace Officer Standards Accountability Advisory Board, a separate entity under the umbrella of the existing POST commission. The board’s members would consist of two current or former law enforcement officers, one attorney and six members of the public with various experience on police accountability issues. The group would be charged with reviewing POST investigations of misconduct and then recommending whether the commission should pursue decertification.
A similar version of the bill failed last year despite mounting pressure from civil rights advocates after Minneapolis police killed George Floyd, sparking nationwide protests and calls for police reform. This year’s legislation passed along largely party lines amid opposition from Republicans and multiple law enforcement associations, who said the proposal employed an excessively broad definition of misconduct and would rely on an oversight board without proper law enforcement representation.
“Ultimately, this bill creates an inherently amateurish and potentially biased panel to oversee the process of revoking an officer’s license to practice law enforcement, ignoring our country’s tradition of due process and subjecting officers to a biased review of their actions where guilt is assumed and the deck is stacked against them,” the Peace Officers Research Association of California said in a letter to lawmakers.
The final amended version of the legislation addressed some of those concerns, adding license suspension as a lesser punishment and including a provision that requires two-thirds of the 17-member POST commission to vote in favor of permanent decertification. But lawmakers left the oversight board as is, noting that the final say on decertification would still be decided by the POST commission, most of whom have a background in law enforcement.
State Sen. Steven Bradford, a Democrat and the bill’s lead sponsor, said the legislation was a long overdue measure meant to increase accountability for law enforcement officers and help protect people’s civil rights.
“This is a major victory for advocates of public safety,” he said in a statement. “California and the nation as a whole has experienced tragedy after tragedy where consequences for egregious abuses of power went unpunished and cries for accountability went unanswered— eroding public trust in law enforcement. This bill is the first of its kind in California and we finally join the 46 other states with processes for the decertification of bad officers.”
Kate Elizabeth Queram is a senior reporter for Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.