By Isabel Whitsett
Families and activists impacted by police brutality throughout California support a bill that intends to revoke officers who have a history of misconduct of their badges.
The Kenneth Ross Jr. Police Decertification Act looks to increase accountability for law enforcement officers who commit serious misconduct and illegally violate a person’s civil rights. This bill could also strengthen key civil rights laws in California, such as the Tom Bane Civil Rights Act, preventing abuse and other violations of rights by law enforcement.
Kenneth Ross Jr., 25, was shot and killed by Gardena police officer Michael Robbins in April 2018. Robbins was also previously involved in three other shootings.
State Sen. Steven Bradford, D-35, author of the bill, argued that now is the time to pass police reform. Bradford chose to name this bill after Ross because he was killed in Bradford’s district.
“California is able to revoke certifications or licensees of bad doctors, teachers and even barbers,” Bradford said. “But is unable to decertify police officers who have broken the law and violated the public’s trust.”
Toni G. Atkins, president pro-tempore and co-author of the bill, stated it will “improve the safety of our communities.”
“Particularly communities of color who are disproportionately impacted by police misconduct,” Atkins said.
According to the Senate Committee on Public Safety hearing April 13, California is one of four states that have yet to implement decertification action.
Many organizations, coalitions, and alliances have come together as The Let Us Live Coalition in support of the bill.
The co-sponsors include: Black Lives Matter Los Angeles, California Families United 4 Justice, STOP Coalition, Youth Justice Coalition (YJC), ACLU of California, Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice, Policy Link, Anti-Police Terror Project, Alliance for Boys and Men of Color, UDW/AFSCME local 3930.
Leticia Barron, mother of six and Riverside County resident, lost her 27-year-old son Mauricio Barron Jr., who was fatally shot by former Irvine California Highway Patrol Officer Daniel Agee in October 2016. She is a member of the STOP Coalition, YJC, California Families United 4 Justice and has been lobbying for change for over two years.
Barron spoke on behalf of her son and other impacted families at both the Senate Public Safety and Judiciary Committee meetings for the proposed act, and at a hearing for a law titled Peace Officers: Deadly Force.
Deadly Force passed at the state level and Barron proceeds by lobbying in support of the decertification bill.
“I fight for justice and advocate on behalf of not only my family, but other impacted families too,” she said. “We are tired of the police force getting away with their harmful actions.”
Although bills have been passed to stop some misconduct of the police force, she continues to question the system.
“Why are we passing bills when police officers still aren’t being held accountable,” she asked. “They just move the cops from one place to another within departments.”
Barron believes the investigation process for law enforcement officers who kill, harass and abuse citizens is not where it needs to be.
“If this bill goes through, we can get some cops with a pattern of misconduct decertified.” she said.
Sheila Bates, an organizer and member with Black Lives Matter Los Angeles, supports the bill but believes police reform is not enough.
“State sanctioned violence is a really prominent issue in our society and, unfortunately, not much is being done to fix that,” Bates said. “The root of police is absolutely problematic and the only answer for me is abolition of policing.”
She added that officers need to be held accountable for their actions and this bill would allow for that.
Emilio Zapien is the Media and Communications coordinator and organizer for the YJC and is a STOP Coalition volunteer.
For the past decade, Zapien dedicated himself to YJC to help families affected by police brutality and is passionate about sharing the truth of what these affected families have experienced.
“Seeing the pain and trauma these families endured broke my heart and really inspired me to do something about it,” he said.
He believes fixing the system has to start at the root of the problem.
“We don’t believe in a few bad apples,” he said. “We believe the whole system is rotten and dirty to the core.”
During the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing for this bill April 27, police from all over the state, including the Riverside Sheriff’s Association, said they support decertification, but not the bill in its current form.
The Peace Officers’ Research Association of California (PORAC) is made up of many public safety officers who oppose the bill.
“We regret to inform you of our opposition,” PORAC said in a statement. “We fully support the license revocation of officers who demonstrate gross misconduct in law enforcement. However, as written, (the bill) would override due process, establishing a nine-person panel to oversee the license revocation process that includes seven members of the public with no requirements for expertise power or prior experience in the practice of public safety or law enforcement.”
The Let Us Live Coalition argued the bill will provide strong due process protections for officers.
According to the coalition, it provides six levels of review before an officer can be decertified all at a heightened clear and convincing standard.