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California Should Pass Senate Bill 2

Police officers need to be treated like professionals, and that means approving new law allowing for decertification, writes Vice President of Criminal Justice Walter Katz in CalMatters.

New members of the New York City Police Department's graduating class participate in a swearing in ceremony at Madison Square Garden. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images file)

In nearly every state, officers who violate the public trust can be banned from working in law enforcement. But not in California. Four states — Hawaii, Rhode Island and New Jersey are the others — lack the ability to decertify police officers, sheriff’s deputies and other law enforcement workers who fail to meet the appropriate standard of behavior. That’s why California needs to pass Senate Bill 2, Arnold Ventures Vice President of Criminal Justice Walter Katz writes in an oped published in CalMatters this week.

Officers can be fired for egregious misconduct. But unless they’re convicted of a felony or a few other narrow circumstances, little stops them from reapplying at another department,” Katz writes. 

If signed into law, SB 2 will create a systemic process for investigating law enforcement officers, reviewing findings, and issuing decisions about licensing. However, this decertification power isn’t new. The Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training had the ability to decertify officers until the California Legislature removed it in 2003

It is critical that the Legislature return this power in order to strengthen the trust between officers and the communities they have sworn to protect and serve. 

The most vulnerable neighborhoods, which have the greatest need for trustworthy policing, are often the ones most hurt when bad cops stay on the job,” Katz writes. I serve on the Council on Criminal Justice Task Force on Policing and in a recent report we documented how officers fired for misconduct routinely end up in departments in smaller cities with fewer resources and larger communities of color. These trickle-down cops are more likely to continue misusing force.”

This bad behavior on the wrong side of the badge then goes on to undermine community safety as neighborhoods become less likely to report crimes or cooperate with investigations. Prosecutors may even find it difficult to convict people who pose true threats to community welfare if juries don’t believe the word of a rogue cop with a long rap sheet. 

Like lawyers, doctors, or teachers, California needs the ability to revoke the license of law enforcement officers who violate the public trust.

Few individuals are trusted with such a critical role in society,” Katz writes. California needs to ensure that trust is well-earned and pass SB 2.”

Read the entire op-ed here: SB 2 treats police officers like professionals