Bill to weed out bad law enforcement officers heads to Gov. Newsom

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- California lawmakers on Wednesday sent Gov. Gavin Newsom legislation to end the careers of bad law enforcement officers, a year after an earlier effort died without a final vote.

The measure aims to keep troubled officers from jumping from one job to another by creating a mandatory new state license, or certification, that could be permanently revoked.

"This bill allows them to rid the bad apples that we know exist, bad apples that we know exist in every profession," Democratic Sen. Steven Bradford said. "Just because you put on a uniform and a badge doesn't absolve you or make you immune to being a bad person."

California licenses more than 200 professions, he noted: "We're just adding law enforcement to that category."

The final softened version of the legislation also allows for suspending the license as a lesser punishment and includes other safeguards like requiring a two-thirds vote for decertification.

Senators gave final approval on a 28-9 vote, with Republicans opposed.

California is one of just four states without a way of decertifying officers, alongside Hawaii, New Jersey and Rhode Island.

Bradford's previous bill died last year despite nationwide protests over the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. His new effort was the most prominent and heavily debated criminal justice reform measure of this year's legislative session that ends Friday.

"I think to label all of our men and women in blue that protect us and keep our communities safe like an officer like Derek Chauvin is unacceptable and not right," said GOP Sen. Shannon Grove, referring to the Minneapolis officer convicted of murdering Floyd.

Legislative and law enforcement opponents agreed the state needs a way to rid the profession of poor officers. But they objected that the process under Bradford's bill would be too biased and the grounds for revocation both too broad and too vague.

Just two of the nine members of a new disciplinary board would represent police, while the remaining seven would have professional or personal backgrounds related to police accountability.

Bradford and other supporters said that isn't biased against officers because the 18-member Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training would make the final decision and is mostly composed of law enforcement professionals.

Officers could lose their badges for serious misconduct including using excessive force, sexual assault, intimidating witnesses, making a false arrest or report, or participating in a law enforcement gang. Other grounds include "demonstrating bias" based on race, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation or mental disability, among other criteria.

"What we know for sure is that bad apples put everyone's life in danger, including the lives of their partners and their colleagues and their fellow officers on the force," Democratic Sen. Sydney Kamlager said.

Bradford named his bill the Kenneth Ross Jr. Police Decertification Act, after a 25-year-old Black man killed in Los Angeles County in 2018. The officer who killed him was cleared of wrongdoing, but had previously been involved in three other shootings.

"I believe cops who shoot people shouldn't be in our communities, and this bill gives us the ability to decertify cops when they abuse their power to harm us," Ross' mother, Fouzia Almarou, said in a statement.

The measure was co-sponsored by the Let Us Live Coalition, which includes families effected by police confrontations, but the group said lawmakers went too far in softening the bill to provide additional due process protections. The version sent to Newsom, it said, has "the potential to cede too much power to a predominantly law enforcement structure."

Also Wednesday, the Assembly sent Newsom several related bills, including one setting statewide standards for law enforcement's use of rubber bullets and chemical irritants during protests. A similar bill also died last year.

Another prohibits law enforcement gangs and makes participation grounds for dismissal. The bill defines such gangs as a group of officers that engages in a pattern of unlawful or unethical on-duty behavior and who may identify themselves by a name and may have matching tattoos or other identifying symbols.

A third limits street gang enhancements to the most serious offenses, in keeping with a recommendation by a governor's advisory committee.

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