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Criminal Justice

What You Need to Know About California’s New Law To Get Rid Of Bad Cops

An image of the LAPD headquarters. There's a sign of the LAPD and its auditorium.
LAPD Headquarters in front of City Hall.
(Chava Sanchez
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LAist)
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Gov. Newsom Thursday signed into law a hotly debated bill that creates a system for yanking a law enforcement officer’s license to carry a badge for engaging in serious misconduct, including excessive use of force, dishonesty, and racial bias. All but four other states already have a decertification law but police leaders and unions in California had long opposed one here.

The legislation was introduced in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and became a top priority for police watchdogs and activists. It’s designed not only to make sure bad cops are fired, but to prevent an officer who has engaged in misconduct at one department from getting a job at another law enforcement agency.

“Today marks another step toward healing and justice for all,” said Newsom. “Too many lives have been lost due to racial profiling and excessive use of force.”

Police unions lobbied fiercely against the bill, saying the definition of serious misconduct was vague and that the civilian advisory board it creates would have too much influence in the process.

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The law creates a “biased and unclear process for revoking an officer’s license,” Brian Marvel, president of the Peace Officers Research Association of California, told CalMatters this summer.

The bill was sponsored by Sen. Steven Bradford, (D-Gardena).

“This bill is not just about holding bad officers accountable for their misconduct,” said its sponsor, Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena). “It’s also about building trust between our communities and law enforcement.”

“We don’t hate the police,” he said. “We fear the police due to lack of trust.”

The bill was known as the Kenneth Ross Jr. Police Decertification Act - named for a 25-year-old Black man who was fatally shot with an AR-15 by a Gardena officer as he fled police through Rowley Park in 2018. Newsom signed the bill in the park with Ross’ family standing next to him.

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Ross had a gun and then-DA Jackie Lacey said it appeared he was in a mental health crisis but she concluded the shooting was legally justified. The now-retired officer who shot him — Michael Robbins — had worked at the Orange Police Department previously and been involved in at least one shooting there. It’s not clear if he would have been subject to decertification under this bill.

Here’s what you need to know about the new law:

  • Reporting. Starting Jan. 1, 2023, law enforcement agencies must to report to the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) allegations of serious misconduct that could result in the revocation or suspension of an officer’s certification. Police agencies must also report civil judgements and findings by oversight entities of serious misconduct.
  • Investigations. The commission must create a new division to investigate or review possible misconduct.
  • Advisory Panel. The law calls for the creation of a nine-member civilian advisory board to recommend whether to decertify an officer. The majority of the board must be composed of people without policing experience, including two who either personally suffered from an officer’s use of force or lost a loved one to it.
  • The Evidence. Any recommendation for decertification of an officer must be based on clear and convincing evidence, which means the evidence is “highly and substantially” more likely to be true than untrue.
  • Decisions. POST would make the final decision on decertification.
  • ”Serious Misconduct.” By Jan. 1, 2023, POST must adopt a specific definition of “serious misconduct.” The law broadly defines it as work-related dishonesty, abuse of power, falsely arresting someone, excessive force, sexual assault, biased policing, participation in law enforcement gangs, and the failure by a peace officer to intercede when witnessing excessive force by other officers.
What questions do you have about criminal justice and public safety in Southern California?
Frank Stoltze covers a new movement for criminal justice reform at a time when not everybody shares the same vision.