Gov. Newsom signs bill to decertify peace officers for serious misconduct

Photo of Gavin Newsom
Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons
Gov. Gavin Newsom signed SB 2 into law, which will create a system to investigate and suspend peace officer certifications following serious misconduct. Gage Skidmore under CC BY-SA 2.0.

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California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill 2, or SB 2, into law Thursday, which will decertify peace officers who have committed serious misconduct.

SB 2, cosponsored by state Sen. Steven Bradford, D-Gardena, and President Pro Tem Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, will create a system within the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training, or POST, to investigate and suspend peace officer certification on the grounds of conduct violations, according to a press release from Newsom’s office.

“Today marks another step toward healing and justice for all,” Newsom said in the press release. “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 press release noted that “serious misconduct” includes excessive force, sexual assault and bias or dishonesty. SB 2 will create two bodies within POST to review cases of such misconduct: the Peace Officer Standards Accountability Division and the Peace Officer Standards Accountability Advisory Board.

POST used to only deliver certificates to peace officers who work in California, according to Scott Tiedemann, a managing partner at Liebert Cassidy Whitmore who has spent 26 years prosecuting police officers who have engaged in misconduct. Under SB 2, POST will also be able to revoke certificates, Tiedemann said.

However, Tiedemann alleged that the bill had several shortcomings, including a lack of a clear definition of what constitutes an “unreasonable” use of force. He also believes the foremost issue would be retention among police forces.

Tiedemann noted that highly qualified applicants may be turned away by the legislation’s increased scrutiny. This may lead police forces to depend on applicants of lower quality, which could fuel more police misconduct, he added.

“When you look at this law in general, there are ideas that are really good. When the details are examined and they’re applied to different situations, there are going to be problems,” Tiedemann said.

Bradford noted, however, that there are too many officers who remain on the force after committing serious misconduct. Even if these officers are fired from one employer, they could get rehired at another agency, he said in an email.

SB 2 offers a solution to this, according to Bradford. It would create a “fair and impartial” statewide system to revoke an officer’s certification, preventing officers who engage in misconduct from being hired at another agency, he added.

“Law enforcement officers are entrusted with great powers to carry a firearm, stop and search, use force, and arrest,” Bradford said in an email. “To balance this, they must be held to a higher standard of accountability.”

Contact Christopher Ying at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter at @ChrisYingg.