California legislators accomplished what federal lawmakers simply couldn’t due to Republican pandering to law enforcement unions, and that is actual legislation to back the lip service given to desired police reform after the murder of George Floyd. A Black father, Floyd died last May when Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on his neck for more than nine minutes. As a result of Floyd’s death and decades of other atrocities at the hands of police, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law eight bills aimed at reforming policing in the state on Thursday, according to a news release from the governor’s office.
He signed the bills into law live from a press conference with legislators and relatives of those who had died as a result of police violence. “Too many lives have been lost due to racial profiling and excessive use of force,” Newsom said. “We cannot change what is past, but we can build accountability, root out racial injustice and fight systemic racism. We are all indebted to the families who have persevered through their grief to continue this fight and work toward a more just future.”
The signing ceremony was held at the park Kenneth Ross Jr., 25, was shot and killed at in an incident with Gardena police in 2018. One of the bills Newsom signed is named in Ross’ honor and lays out a process for having the licenses of law enforcement officers revoked even when officers are not criminally charged, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Author of the Kenneth Ross Jr. Decertification Act of 2021and State Sen. Steven Bradford, of Gardena, told the Times the officer who killed Ross was hired from Orange County and had been linked to three other "questionable" shootings. “That turned on the light for me that this needs to end,” he said. The senator told the Times the officer who killed Ross “really had no business being here in Gardena.”
Bradford's work makes California a late addition to the now 47 states with policies in place to prevent officers engaged in misconduct from moving from department to department.
“California has one of the most progressive criminal justice systems in the nation,” he said. “But for too long, problematic officers that commit heinous acts in one department are either not held accountable and continue to be a problem for that community, or are punished, but able to find employment in another department. This rinse and repeat style of accountability has led to the continuous erosion of community trust.”
The legislative package Newsom signed collectively ups the minimum age required to be a cop from 18 to 21 years old; details how an officer can permanently lose his or her badge for police brutality or racially profiling; and sets standards on police use of less-lethal weapons and restrictive breathing tactics, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The bills follow an announcement from federal legislators last month that bipartisan negotiations failed to net federal police reform legislation after months of talks between Republicans and Democrats. “I want folks not to lose hope, that just because things aren’t happening in Washington, D.C., that we can’t move the needle here, not just in our state but in states all across this country,” Newsom said during the press conference. California Attorney General Rob Bonta called it a “crisis of trust when it comes to law enforcement right now.” He said the new legislation will help establish “more trust, more transparency and more accountability.”
The legislative package, though representing several steps in the right direction, is far from all-encompassing. It doesn't include earlier proposed eliminations of qualified immunity coverage, which protects officer from being held financially liable for excessive force, and it requires that California’s Commission on Peace Officers Standards and Training obtain a two-thirds majority instead of a simple majority to have an officer permanently decertified, Los Angeles Times writer Anita Chabria wrote in documenting Bradford's journey to get the bill passed.
Sara Libby, a politics editor and former managing editor of Voice of San Diego, tweeted that the “bar for decertification is incredibly (almost impossibly?) high” and likely wouldn’t help end the careers of cops who commit domestic violence and plead down to lesser crimes. Libby added in follow-up tweets: “The San Diego police officer who knocked his wife unconscious and is still on the force? Likely wouldn’t be decertified under this structure. (I mean, he wasn’t even fired.) But decertification would, in theory, protect against problem officers simply packing up and getting a new job somewhere else. McFarland [which is about 25 miles northwest of Bakersfield in the San Joaquin Valley] became a magnet for these officers.”