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California lawmakers reportedly advanced contentious legislation that would create a decertification process for “rogue officers” and is intended to give victims of police violence a better shot in civil court. A California Senate committee recently voted 7-2 in favor of what both proponents and critics consider to be the most impactful police reform bill of the year.
State Senator Steven Bradford, D-Gardena, and civil rights groups are pushing for a statewide decertification process for law enforcement officers convicted of serious crimes or fired for misconduct. They also want to update the state’s Tom Bane Civil Rights Act and make it easier for victims to pursue civil claims in state court by reducing legal immunity for officers.
Currently, California is one of four states 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.
During an emotional marathon hearing, Bradford recited the names of Black Americans recently killed by police and argued California’s refusal to update archaic policing standards continues to stain its progressive image. “We lead in technology, we lead in the environment, we lead in all those things that are important except for criminal justice reform,” said Bradford, who authored the bill.
Under SB 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.
Bradford, chair of the Legislative Black Caucus, says the bill is inspired by the death of Kenneth Ross Jr. who was gunned down in 2018 by a Gardena officer who transferred after multiple other shootings at a nearby department.
Unlike a previous bill, SB 2 lowered the burden of proof needed to secure wrongful death charges against peace officers. Bradford’s decision to support the families of fatal police shootings nearly backfired, as he was unable to sway the committee’s most influential member. Committee chair state Senator Tom Umberg, D-Orange County, refused several amendments proposed by Bradford in recent days, and reportedly said the proposal to lower the existing intent bar from “specific” to “general” could cause confusion and declined to vote. He added that those need to be defined, and that he would support a separate bill creating solely a decertification process.
However, opponents of the bill, like the California State Sheriffs’ Association, cast SB 2 as both a financial and public safety threat. They say that by lowering the burden of proof standard under the state’s Civil Rights Act, law enforcement groups argue the enhanced threat of costly lawsuits will have a negative impact on policing. Aside from individual officers, they claim cities and counties could be the targets of a flood of future litigation.
Fortunately for the proponents, Bradford was able to sway several of the holdouts behind the scenes by promising to consider changes to the Bane Act portion as the bill proceeds. SB 2 is now headed to a fiscal committee before a potential floor vote. Multiple senators reportedly said their future support for the bill is contingent upon whether Bradford accepts changes to the liability language.
Moreover, another set of police reforms are gaining steam, as the Assembly Public Safety Committee approved legislation requiring new officers be at least 25 years old or hold a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. Currently, new peace officers must be high school graduates and at least 18, among other standard law enforcement requirements. This bill, which won’t be applied to current officers, must clear another committee before a full Assembly vote.