No one wants to see bad officers removed from law enforcement more than good officers do.
When officers act in a way that is grossly inconsistent with the missions and goals of our profession, it only harms our ability to build trust between officers and the communities they have sworn to serve. That trust is essential for officers to be able to carry out their duties safely and effectively.
Here in California, there has been a lot of talk about establishing a license program for officers as Senate Bill 2 proceeds through the Legislature. California law enforcement fully supports establishing a license program that will decertify bad officers, and the Peace Officers Research Association of California (PORAC) has been on the record in support of such a process for over two years.
What is needed now is a cultural shift, both within departments and agencies, but also externally in the way officers are viewed by their communities.
However, SB 2 in its current form is not the answer. Those two positions may seem contradictory, but the devil is in the details, and the details matter.
How can we ensure that oversight is conducted in a way that represents the interests of justice and fairness while preserving officer’s constitutional due process rights? What kinds of misconduct would qualify for decertification? Does the license oversight panel have the authority to overturn court rulings?
These are just a few of the important questions that SB 2 has yet to answer. For our democratic process to work, every voice must have an opportunity to be heard, community members and activist organizations, public safety experts and academics, legal scholars, and yes, even law enforcement.
What is needed now is a cultural shift, both within departments and agencies, but also externally in the way officers are viewed by their communities. We need to work together to establish a fair and effective license program that all Californians can stand behind.
So, what would that process even look like?
Well for starters, we need to give the Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission the authority to suspend or revoke an officer’s license. Next, establish an oversight panel whose body is equitably balanced with both members of the public and the law enforcement profession. To ensure those members of the public are prepared to make informed decisions when judging an officer’s actions, they must have the benefit of having gone through certain POST Academy trainings: use-of-force requirements per AB 392, force option simulators, internal affairs investigations, ride-alongs, etc.T
This oversight panel needs to be an important advisory body. But, it should not be given the authority to act alone when ending an officer’s career…
Once we have landed on who sits on this oversight panel and have made sure they are prepared to make informed and unbiased decisions, we need to determine how this panel would function. For it to truly have oversight, the panelists must be invited into the process of department investigations from day one to ensure full transparency.
Then there is the matter of which body actually has the authority to do the decertifying. If POST is the independent certifying expert agency that is granting the license to practice law enforcement, they must also be the body that has the authority to revoke, suspend or maintain those licenses informed by the recommendations of this oversight panel.
This oversight panel needs to be an important advisory body. But, it should not be given the authority to act alone when ending an officer’s career, especially if that officer has already been found innocent in a courtroom. That is called double jeopardy, something that should be abhorrent to anyone that truly respects our American rule of law.
Lastly, we need to define what kind of misconduct would warrant decertification. If we do not, officers would be subject to a review of their actions that could ruin their careers and reputations anytime this oversight panel simply disagrees with the way they conducted themselves, even if they acted lawfully, with respect and according to training and department policy.
We must revoke an officer’s license not for mere allegations, but for sustained instances of proven officer misconduct for: the use of excessive force that resulted in death or serious bodily injury, felony convictions or convictions of specified misdemeanors, sexual assault, and job-related dishonesty.
California is one of only four states in the nation that does not have a license program that can decertify officers. We have a real opportunity to do exactly that, but only if we break out of our siloes and work together, rising above what is best for our individual constituencies in favor of doing what is best for all Californians.
PORAC supports a license program and is working very hard to make it happen this year. If SB 2 is not amended and fails to pass, it will not be because of law enforcement, and we will continue working to find another path forward. Let us set aside the politics and get the real work done.
Editor’s Note: Brian R. Marvel is the president of the Peace Officers Research Association of California (PORAC), representing over 77,000 public safety members and over 920 associations.