California lawmakers push for police decertification, more transparency again

California lawmakers reintroduced efforts to decertify police officers and demand more transparency in officer personnel files, as both bills died on the floor last legislative season. 

State Sen. Steven Bradford (D-Gardena) and Senate President pro Tempore Atkins (D-San Diego) introduced SB 2 on Monday in the hopes of increasing accountability for law enforcement officers who commit serious misconduct. SB 2 would create a statewide process to revoke the certification of a peace officer if he or she was convicted of a serious crime or they were fired due to misconduct. Decertification means they cannot be police officers anywhere else in California. 

“The time is now to pass meaningful and common-sense police reform,” Bradford said in a statement.  “California is able to revoke the certification or licenses of bad doctors, lawyers, teachers, and even barbers, but is unable to decertify police officers who have broken the law and violated the public trust. It’s time for California to join the majority of the nation and create a process to decertify bad officers." 

Atkins said the goal of the bill is to improve public safety,  particularly for "communities of color who are disproportionately impacted by police misconduct."

California is one of only five states in the nation that does not have the authority to decertify law enforcement officers who have committed serious misconduct. Other states, such as Florida and Georgia, have led the nation in police officer decertification by inquiring into misconduct without regard to a conviction for certain offenses.

Meanwhile, State Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, reintroduced a bill on Monday that would expand and strengthen public access to police records. Because of her previous bill, SB 1421, the public now has access to police records if there are sustained findings in three categories: dishonesty, sexual misconduct with a civilian or if an officer causes great bodily injury. 

Skinner's new bill, SB 16, would open public access to many more records. 

Specifically, the bill would make public records of officers who are found to be engaged in biased or discriminatory behavior, conducted unlawful arrests or searches, or used force that is excessive or unreasonable. Additionally, Skinner's bill would ensure that officers with a history of misconduct can’t just quit their jobs, keep their records secret, and move on to continue bad behavior in another jurisdiction.

The legislation would also establish civil penalties -- up to $1,000 a day -- for agencies that fail to release records in a timely manner and mandate that agencies can only charge for the cost of duplicating records. 

“Communities deserve tools to hold law enforcement accountable. Expanding and strengthening access to police records is one such tool,” Skinner said in a statement. “This legislation also shines a light on officers who have a history of racist, discriminatory, or abusive behavior.”  

Both bills missed the legislative deadline last season to be enacted into law.