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Defeat of SB 731 a Big Win for California Law Enforcement

October 1, 2020
Tony Montoya - SFPOA President

SB 731 (police officer certification) was a horrible bill. There are no ifs, ands or buts about it. It was deeply flawed, written in private and the bill’s author, State Senator Steven Bradford, attempted to ram it through the Legislature at the last minute without taking a single suggestion from either the Governor or any law enforcement professionals. Horrible bill, horrible process.

The SFPOA opposed SB 731 because it was unfair to officers, would have a chilling impact on officers performing their duties every day, and it would create chaos in the certification process for every single current law enforcement officer in California.

Naturally, the media and pundit scrutiny following the SB 731’s death fell almost exclusively on the “power of police unions” as opposed to the terribly crafted legislation and cynical process used to force SB 731 through. It’s a little like a Hollywood director putting out a film that scores 0% on Rotten Tomatoes and then blaming the audience. The focus was solely on the politics and not the policy, which is a disservice to the public.

Here are some facts. SB 731 called for every single officer to reapply for their POST certification and require our law enforcement agencies to spend money conducting new background checks on every single current officer in the State. There was no provision to allow for a factual hearing for an officer facing decertification. Bradford’s bill made the bar to be decertified as low as any “acts that violate the law,” not serious misdemeanors or felonies. Could that include speeding and jaywalking? In short, yes, it could. The bill also lowered the threshold in civil court for civil rights violations with only general intent. That means “I intended to stop you.” End of story. No need to show that I stopped you with the specific intent to violate your rights.

Moving past the details of the law and on to the composition of the board that would make the decisions on officer decertification, should have sent red flags to every rationale adult paying attention to this legislation. The proposed nine-member panel dictated that four members specifically come from an academic or non-profit organization that specializes in police misconduct (i.e ACLU), one member that has either been subject to a wrongful use of force (that would have caused death or serious bodily injury) or who is a surviving family member of someone killed by the wrongful use of force by a peace officer, and another member who has substantial professional experience involving police oversight. That’s 6 of 9 members who have a non-objective viewpoint to law enforcement. The other three members? Two peace officers with substantial command-level experience and one peace officer who served at the management level of internal affairs. See a spot on there for a regular cop? Nope.

So, where did these serious flaws leave the law enforcement community? Scrambling to educate our legislators on the horrible impacts this bill would have. We also were forced to spend a tremendous amount of time fighting against purposefully misleading information put out by the bill’s author and proponents.

For example, they said that SB 731 was just like the certification laws in Georgia and Florida. Except, it wasn’t. Senator Bradford said his proposed certification board was similar to those of other professions. Not even close. The boards for doctors, surgeons, teachers, nurses and attorneys are all composed by a majority of members from the profession, all include “front-line” employee representatives, and none reserve seats for someone who is a “victim” of the profession governed by the boards. Over the last several days our coalition partners, consultants and our legislative advocate in Sacramento worked feverishly to create fact-check documents debunking those myths.

At the same time, the SFPOA made it clear to the legislative leaders of the Assembly, Senate as well as the Governor, that it was fully prepared to work collaboratively on legislation that That ensures accountability, due process and a reasonable appeals process prior to potentially ending a peace officer’s career. But rank-and-file police officers must be part of the conversation and not shut out by anti-police legislators who have zero intent on actually improving policing.

The legislative process worked as it should. It shut down a bad bill before it became law. It rejected the “let’s just pass the bill and we’ll fix it later” stunt that some advocated. In today’s climate, with so much attention on championing “police reform” on the surface, with zero discussion of detail, it took courage for so many state legislators to tell Senator Bradford, NO. No, we will not pass a law to make us look good. No, we will not pass a law to seek retribution. And no, we will not pass a law that will irreparably harm the entire law enforcement profession.

We appreciate that courage and we ask the critics taking pot shots at police unions like the SFPOA, to turn that microscope to those who are shamelessly peddling bad legislation without any regard for its impact on the safety of the public or officers.