SACRAMENTO — California has joined the vast majority of states in setting up a way to strip the badges of police officers who act criminally or with bias, a change that was among several criminal justice reforms signed into law Thursday by Gov. Gavin Newsom.
The nation’s most populous state was one of just four without such a statewide system alongside Hawaii, New Jersey and Rhode Island. California’s reforms also will limit the use of rubber bullets during protests, bar a type of restraint hold that has led to deaths and detail when an officer has a duty to intervene to prevent or report excessive force.
“We are in a crisis of trust when it comes to law enforcement right now, across the state, across the nation,” said Attorney General Rob Bonta, Newsom’s fellow Democrat who supported the bills. “We’re delivering concrete solutions from banning dangerous holds that lead to asphyxia to multiple other mechanisms that improve accountability and oversight and transparency.”
Officers can now lose their certification for serious misconduct including using excessive force, committing sexual assault, intimidating witnesses, making a false arrest or report, or participating in a law enforcement gang. Other grounds include “demonstrating bias” based on race, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation or mental disability, among other criteria.
Newsom signed the legislation during a sometimes emotional event in a Los Angeles County park where Kenneth Ross Jr., a 25-year-old Black man, was killed in 2018. The officer who shot him was cleared of wrongdoing, but had previously been involved in three other shootings.
“Say his name,” supporters chanted softly as Newsom signed the bills and Ross’ mother, Fouzia Almarou, spoke of her ever-present pain and agony as well as her hope that the new laws will prevent other Black and Brown deaths.
The mother of Angelo Quinto, Sandra Quinto Collins, burst into tears and was hugged by Newsom before other family members told how he died after a San Francisco Bay Area officer pressed a knee to his neck during a mental health crisis just before Christmas last year. A new law will restrict such face-down holds that can cause what’s known as positional asphyxia.
Newsom also signed a measure setting statewide standards for when officers can use “kinetic projectiles” like rubber bullets and chemical agents or tear gas to break up peaceful demonstrations. Police also are prohibited from aiming rubber bullets, beanbags and foam rounds at anyone’s head, neck or other vital areas.