California police reform laws create decertification system for officer misconduct
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California police reform laws create decertification system for officer misconduct

California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday signed into law a series of police reform bills, creating a system to decertify law enforcement officers found to have engaged in serious misconduct, strengthen use of force practices and increase transparency with the aim of building back trust between the public and law enforcement.

“On the one hand, we’re all dismayed by the tragic events that led to the untimely death of George Floyd. On the other hand, we’re standing here today with legislation aimed at strengthening our current law, which requires that peace officers have a duty to intervene,” Assembly Bill 26 author Chris Holden said in a news conference Thursday.

The legislation will prevent officers accused of wrongdoing from bouncing from one law enforcement agency to another and creates a process and advisory board for officer accountability within California’s Police Officer Standards and Training (POST).

“Today we embark on a new chapter in which we infuse our criminal justice system with more trust with more transparency and with more accountability,” state Attorney General Rob Bonta said. “We are showing that you can build trust with the public, and enhance safety of our community and our officers at the same time, that they are not mutually exclusive, that in fact they are the enforcing that by building trust. Today, we enhance safety for our officers and for our community.”

Newsom, a Democrat, said too many people have died because of 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. We are all indebted to the families who have persevered through their grief to continue this fight and work toward a more just future,” he said.

Former officers in California convicted of misconduct are barred from returning to any kind of police officer position unless they are later found innocent or if their conviction is reversed, one new law says.

A total of 46 other states nationwide have the authority to decertify police officers due to misconduct. Hawaii, New Jersey and Rhode Island are the only states that do not have a process of revoking officer certificates, according to the measure.

Another new law also establishes a commission that will “investigate and determine the fitness of any person” serving as an officer in the state. All records related to the investigations and decertification of police officers will be made public for 30 years, with some personal data redacted to protect officers’ privacy.

The minimum age requirement for law enforcement applicants was raised from 18 to 21.

In months since George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, government entities have ramped up efforts to hold officers accountable for misconduct and prevent incidents of police brutality against citizens.

Last week, bipartisan talks in Congress regarding overhauling policing laws broke down without a deal.

Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, the chief Republican negotiator on the issue, Democratic Sen. Cory Booker and Rep. Karen Bass, a California Democrat, spent some six months trying to get a deal, but talks were stymied by a number of complicated issues such as qualified immunity, a legal doctrine that protects police officers from being sued in civil court.

Scott, Booker and Bass have all promised to continue their efforts to pass federal legislation.

President Joe Biden is considering taking executive action to address policing reforms, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday.

“(T)he President and everyone in the administration — we have strongly supported Sen. Cory Booker and Rep. Karen Bass in their efforts. And we’re greatly appreciative of their efforts, which we consider to be ongoing,” Psaki said during the White House press briefing. “But unfortunately, Republicans rejected reforms that even the previous President has supported and refused to engage on key issues that many in law enforcement were willing to address.”

Still the Department of Justice has taken some steps toward reform.

Federal law enforcement officers will be banned from using neck restraints during arrests and using no-knock entries while executing warrants except in rare cases, the Justice Department announced earlier this month.

The DOJ’s policy change bans both chokeholds and “carotid restraints” except in cases where officers are authorized to use deadly force. In those cases, an agent would still be able to apply pressure to someone’s neck or carotid artery to restrict airflow or blood.

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