Bill to revoke police certification for gross misconduct approved by legislature

California has put in place some of the strongest legal protections for law enforcement officers in the country over the decades. This is why a Danville policeman accused of falsely shooting a man in 2018 was able to stay in the street, only to kill again earlier this year. And that’s why officers who are fired for wrongdoing can sometimes quietly find a new job in another department.

But that seems certain to change.

The state is poised to join most of the country when it comes to disciplining the worst of the worst officers. Lawmakers on Wednesday passed a bill that would allow the state law enforcement accreditation body to withdraw its certification as officers for serious misconduct – essentially expelling them from the profession for acts such as sexual assault, perjury and unlawful murder of civilians.

California is one of four states that does not have such power.

The bill is now headed to Governor Gavin Newsom, whose office helped negotiate the recent amendments and is expected to sign it.

Senator Steven Bradford, Democrat of Gardena and Chairman of the Public Safety Committee, introduced the bill with Senate Speaker Pro Tem Toni Atkins. Despite the Democratic-controlled government and the national movement for criminal justice reform, the legislation has encountered considerable obstacles.

A decertification bill failed last year, and this year’s version met resistance from influential law enforcement associations. But after last-minute concessions aimed at appeasing criticism, the State Assembly last week passed the bill and the Senate voted again to approve the amended version.

“California and the nation as a whole have experienced tragedy after tragedy where the consequences of blatant abuse of power have gone unpunished and calls for accountability have gone unanswered, eroding public confidence in the forces of the United States. ‘order,’ Bradford said in a statement after the vote. “This bill is the first of its kind in California and we are finally joining the 46 other states in decertification processes for bad officers.”

The bill would create a new division within the state Commission on Standards and Training of Peace Officers to investigate allegations of misconduct. A new nine-member advisory board would recommend stripping an officer of their certification – essentially a license to work in the police service. The commission, which is made up mostly of people appointed by law enforcement for political reasons, would then decide to revoke or suspend an officer’s certification – a decision an officer could ultimately appeal to a court.

Law enforcement associations opposed the bill. In hearing after hearing, police chiefs and representatives of law enforcement associations said they supported the concept of decertification, but feared the definition of serious misconduct was vague and the advisory board had too much of it. influence.

Brian Marvel, president of the Peace Officers Research Association of California, told CalMatters in July that the bill creates a “biased and unclear process for revoking an officer’s license.”

To help allay some of these concerns and secure passage, the bill was recently amended to require a two-thirds vote of the commission as opposed to a simple majority before an officer can be decertified. The amended version also no longer requires two members of the advisory board to be subjected to excessive force or close to those killed by the police. Instead, these posts would be members of the general public with “high regard” given to victims of such abuse. Other changes would clarify the definition of serious misconduct and could limit the commission’s ability to withdraw certification from officers whose cases have already been heard by local trial courts.

The changes angered some supporters of the bill.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Sheila Bates, a member of the Black Lives Matter Los Angeles political team and a coalition of advocates who have co-sponsored the bill, said victims of excessive force deserve to have a voice in the proceedings. She also said she was concerned that the two-thirds qualified majority vote required to withdraw an officer’s certification would make it much more difficult to hold bad officers accountable.

“The police have more rights in the state of California and less responsibility in the state of California and they want it to be,” Bates said.

Yet, she said, it is high time that decertification became law.

“It’s still a strong bill,” Bates said.

Ellie Virrueta of the Let Us Live Coalition has been working towards decertification for two years. Virrueta’s teenage cousin was killed by police in Southern California in 2012. She said local authorities considered it a fair shooting, but questioned the findings and called into question. said his family “would have had a better chance of getting real justice” if something like the decertification bill had been in place.

“When we fight, we really win,” she said after the vote in the Senate. “This is not the end of the road. We still have a lot of work to do. “

The late changes were not enough for some law enforcement groups to drop their formal opposition.

“Unfortunately, the final text of the bill still includes vague and subjective definitions of what would constitute serious misconduct, the composition of the board of directors remains biased against the agent and the bill still does not contain any reference to the Charter of rights of peace officers. “Marvel, president of the Peace Officers Research Association of California, said in an email to CalMatters.

He said the organization “looks forward to continuing our work with the governor’s office and leaders of both chambers as they develop the agenda created by the bill.”

The bill came out of the assembly last week with 49 votes. The amended version authorized the Senate with 28 votes. The governor has until October 10 to promulgate it

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