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New Calif. laws raise minimum age for police work, expand penalties for misconduct

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed eight police reforms bills into law on Thursday

Gavin Newsom

California Gov. Gavin Newsom

AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, Pool

By Hannah Wiley
The Sacramento Bee

SACRAMENTO — California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a law Thursday that will make it easier to strip problematic cops with misconduct records of their badges and keep them from jumping to another law enforcement agency without facing discipline.

Newsom’s signature fulfills more than a year’s worth of promises Democrats made after George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis to weed out officers with concerning records of excessive force and other serious misconduct. California was one of only four states without a police decertification process.

Senate Bill 2 became one of the most important bills the Legislature considered this year. State Sen. Steven Bradford, D- Gardena, initially introduced a similar proposal in 2020, but failed to get it through the Legislature.

This year, Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, D- San Diego, joined Bradford as an author to put her office’s influence behind the priority legislation.

Supported by the ACLU and community organizing groups, the new law sets up a multi-step review process to determine whether an officer’s conduct warrants a suspension or license revocation.

The Commission on Peace Officers Standards and Training would first review a local agency’s investigation into the officer’s behavior and determine if another probe is necessary. An advisory board made up of two law enforcement representatives, six members of the community and an attorney could also be recruited to analyze the facts and offer a disciplinary recommendation.

Community members might come from nonprofits or community-based organizations and preference will be given to excessive force victims or family members of those killed by police. The advisory board would only be used if the commission believes an officer’s misconduct might call for more severe disciplinary action. The commission has the final say in either adopting or rejecting the board’s recommendation, and would need a two-thirds majority vote for decertification.

Alleged serious misconduct that could trigger an investigation includes physical abuse, gang activity, sexual assault, dishonesty or tampering with evidence. Officers would have the ability to review and contest any disciplinary action.

“SB 2 will end the wash, rinse and repeat cycle of police misconduct and ensure all officers in California are held to the same fair and appropriate standards,” Bradford said. “This bill is not just about holding bad officers accountable for their misconduct. It’s also about rebuilding trust between our communities and law enforcement.”

California police unions lobbied against law

Law enforcement unions and associations lobbied against SB 2. Opposing groups largely supported a decertification process in California, but raised questions about the composition of the advisory board over fears that it would be biased against officers.

Democrats and Republicans during floor debates made similar arguments and expressed concern that officers already feel demonized in California. SB 2 passed the Senate on a final 28-9 vote and the Assembly by 49-21. Many moderate Democrats in the Assembly abstained from voting.

After he amended SB 2 in the final weeks of the 2021 legislative session to address outstanding concerns, Bradford earned extra Democratic support in the Senate.

In a statement, the Peace Officers Research Association said it was still worried about the board, along with what it considers “unclear, subjective and vague definitions” of “serious misconduct.” The association also said the new law doesn’t address the Peace Officer’s Bill of Rights.

“We cannot allow officers who demonstrate gross misconduct to continue to be members of the law enforcement profession; their licenses must be revoked. We appreciate the Governor’s and Senate President Pro-Tem’s offices for their leadership and collaboration with law enforcement throughout the process of establishing California’s first officer licensing program,” said Brian Marvel, the association’s president. “PORAC looks forward to addressing our remaining concerns as we continue to work with the Governor’s office, Senate President Pro-Tem’s office and the Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission as they develop and implement California’s new officer licensing program.”

Gavin Newsom signs more police accountability laws

Newsom also signed the following police accountability bills:

— Assembly Bill 89: Previously, officers had to be at least 18 to get hired. This new law raises the hiring age to 21 and establishes certain higher education requirements for employment.

— Assembly Bill 490: This legislation expands on a law signed last year that prohibited carotid restraint and so-called “chokeholds.” AB 490 creates a more uniform standard on these restraints, specifically the knee-to-neck compression and other risky techniques.

— Assembly Bill 26: This so-called " George Floyd’s Law” requires cops to intervene in situations where other police officers are using excessive force. The bill clarifies current legal requirements by outlining exactly what constitutes intervention and when it should be used and how excessive force should be reported.

“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, who was at the press conference. “We need more tools, better tools, to create more transparency, more oversight and more accountability...With these laws, we are showing that you can build trust with the public and enhance safety of our community and officers at the same time.”

(c)2021 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.)