Tell California to Require State Licensure for Police
The People of the State of California demand that our state assembly people and senators draft legislation with the purpose of codifying policing as state regulated profession that requires state licensure. Specifically, we demand that individual officers be required to meet state guidelines for professional behavior (i.e., demonstrated knowledge and understanding of ethical and unbiased policing; upholding ethical standards of policing; refraining from violation of local, state, and federal law; becoming mandated reporters of police misconduct that endangers the lives or wellbeing of community members, etc.). We demand that a Board of Policing be established in the California Department of Consumer Affairs, and that this board be tasked with the protection of the people of California from police misconduct through the individual regulation of the licensure of police officers.
Currently in the State of California the public has limited options in terms of addressing police misconduct. We have the option to file a complaint against an officer or officers, and/or we have the ability to file a civil lawsuit against the policing agency that the officer works for. In filing a complaint, the public must trust that the local police department will properly investigate the complaint and that the officers’ colleague will not act to cover up misconduct. The public must also trust that the local leadership will prioritize the wellbeing of the public over other political concerns (i.e., unions, personal relationships with police, etc). If the complaint is pushed to its highest level, it can be sent to the California Department of Justice. However, the CA Department of Justice has very limited power in terms of addressing local complaints. In fact, the best a complainant can hope for is that the complaint will be referred back to the local police force with an admonishment to look at it again. This amounts to a closed system of self-regulation where social and political pressures within policing agencies are stronger than external pressures for accountability.
The other option of making a civil complaint can be effective for the individual complainant in terms of receiving some level of financial restitution for the effects of the police misconduct. However, this does nothing to actually change the behavior of individual police or policing agencies. This is because the financial burden of lost lawsuits are transferred back to the public, as policing agencies are funded by taxpayers. Worse, in most cases these cases end in settlements that leave the officers and their departments not having to take any legal responsibility at all. Basically, there is little to no reason why a lawsuit would cause change in policing at the individual or policy level.
One step towards demanding accountability would be to provide the public with a way to hold individual police officers to their stated ethical codes and to state legal mandates. Like doctors, lawyers, psychologists, nurses, barbers, dentist, and any other group of professionals who are required to hold a state license; police officers should be required to earn and maintain a policing license. In imposing a state license for policing, issues of misconduct would be moved out of local control that is biased by custom and politic and place it under state oversight. This shift would allow for more honest regulation of policing where the public can hold individual officers accountable for their behaviors, both in terms of direct misconduct and the failure to report misconduct. It would force entrenched dysfunctional policing behaviors to change based on the knowledge that regardless of the one’s local influence, each officer would understand that their livelihood was dependent on their acting in the accordance with the law and the ethics that their profession espouses. This expectation would be a huge change in policing culture, but it would be no more of a burden than the burden that any doctor holds when working to provide ethical care that does not endanger their medical license.