Want Better Policing? Make It Easier To Fire Bad Cops.
If you’re a Realtor, contractor, or insurance agent who engages in serious misbehavior, the state can strip you of the license that allows you to practice your profession. Occupational licensing rules often are strict. They include “moral turpitude” clauses that deny licenses to those with convictions—even for crimes that have little to do with the specific work license.
These rules mostly apply to private-sector workers. But many government employees—especially police officers, who have the legal right to use deadly force—have no licensing system. Overly aggressive and corrupt officers might get fired, but there’s nothing stopping them from getting another policing job thanks to the power of the state’s public-employee unions.
One would expect progressive California to be on the cutting edge of police reform, but Democrats have long been in the pocket of cop unions. And Republicans are their usual selves. They’re for limited and accountable government but with an asterisk: Such accountability doesn’t apply to uniformed officials who have the most power over our lives.
As a result, we’re one of only four states that doesn’t have a police-decertification process. I’ve covered the police abuse issue long before police misconduct had become a national outrage, and I can attest to the way this bipartisan system operated. A police officer might be accused of awful behavior, ranging from on-the-job sex abuse to abusing a detainee.
The police investigate themselves and rarely find wrongdoing. Internal discipline is secret. District attorneys, who often are elected with the support of police unions, file charges only in the most egregious situations—and usually only after an incident has exploded in the media. The Peace Officers Bill of Rights and special local collective bargaining clauses give officers the kind of protections that most of us wish the Bill of Rights really offered.
When police officers are caught red-handed, their agencies routinely allow them to plead their felony to a misdemeanor, which allows them to continue working in law enforcement. Even in the rare instance when DAs prosecute officers, sympathetic juries usually clear them. Google the “Kelly Thomas” case in Fullerton for a desk-pounding example.
Since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, California Democrats have postured about police reform. But only a handful of measures have become law. The police unions still have their clout, although they’ve changed their tune. Now they claim to support reforms, yet virtually every one of the proposed reforms is too flawed for them to support. Go figure.
Finally, the state Legislature is getting ready to do something about the decertification situation and, sure enough, the usual suspects are singing that tune. Senate Bill 2 still is alive in the Legislature. It’s a remarkably sensible and substantive proposal. Mainly, the legislation “requires minimum training and moral character requirements for peace officers…while at the same time identifying certain disqualifyi
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