✅ Booting bad cops

Police officers in Balwin Park on Aug. 6, 2019. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters
Police officers in Balwin Park on Aug. 6, 2019. Photo by Anne Wernikoff for CalMatters

By Robert Lewis


SB 2 would give the state’s Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training the power to decertify an officer for wrongdoing — effectively kicking them out of the profession. It would also create an advisory board made up of mostly civilians without policing experience to look into serious misconduct allegations and make recommendations to the commission on whether to revoke an officer’s certification. A decertification bill failed last year. This year’s version, by Democratic Sens. Steven Bradford of Gardena and Toni Atkins of San Diego, was amended to partially placate law enforcement, including requiring a higher two-thirds threshold vote of commissioners to decertify officers.


The American Civil Liberties Union, California Innocence Coalition and a long list of criminal justice reform organizations are supporting it. An advocacy organization formed by Black professional athletes and artists, including Lebron James, sent an open letter urging passage. Supporters say the bill would increase accountability, protect the public from bad officers and help restore trust in the system.


Law enforcement groups — notably the Peace Officers Research Association of California and the California Police Chiefs Association. Both have said they support decertification in theory but worry the advisory board is designed to be biased against police. They also say the definition of “serious misconduct” that could cost accused officers their careers is too vague and subjective.


Blue California is one of only four states in the country without the power to decertify an officer. As a result, stories have been reported through the years of officers involved in questionable killings being allowed to stay on the street, only to kill again. And there have been cases of officers fired from one department, then quietly moving to another department. This bill would change that. It’s also a test of the degree to which lawmakers are willing to do more to rein in police over the opposition of powerful law enforcement associations.


In signing this and several other police reform bills on Sept. 30, Newsom issued a statement while visiting Rowley Park in Gardena, where he was joined by legislators, community leaders and families of victims of police violence. “Today marks another step toward healing and justice for all,” the governor said. “Too many lives have been lost due to racial profiling and excessive use of force. We cannot change what is past, but we can build accountability, root out racial injustice and fight systemic racism.” The park was the scene of a 2018 police shooting in which 25-year-old Kenneth Ross Jr. was killed; the officer, Michael Robbins, was later cleared of wrongdoing.