Police Decertification in California: How it Works
In 2021, the California Legislature passed Senate Bill 2 (SB 2), the Kenneth Ross, Jr. Police Decertification Act of 2021. SB 2 established a statewide system to decertify or suspend officers who have committed serious misconduct.
Under SB 2, the public can report police officers to the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST). POST will assess the complaint through a multilayer decertification system. SB 2 also makes it easier to sue police who have committed civil rights abuses.
If you've had a negative or abusive interaction with a police officer, we encourage you to use the new law to report the situation. Below is an FAQ that explains how you can initiate this process and what will happen once a complaint is filed. You can also watch a recorded webinar where we explained the process to community activists and impacted families.
Table of Contents
- Why is it important that an officer who commits serious misconduct be decertified?
- Who can report a police officer for decertification?
- What counts as serious misconduct under SB 2?
- How do I file a complaint of serious misconduct and request an officer be decertified?
- How can I check to see how many police officers in my area have been decertified?
- Which state agency is responsible for handling serious misconduct complaints?
- What happens when a police officer is reported to POST?
- What else did SB 2 do?
- Watch our webinar
Why is it important that an officer who commits serious misconduct be decertified?
Before SB 2, officers who were disciplined or fired from a police department for serious misconduct did not necessarily lose their police certification, meaning that they could potentially be rehired by another department.
Under the new law, once an officer is decertified, they can no longer be hired as a police officer in the state of California. Their name will also be added to the National Decertification Index (NDI), a national database that tracks decertified officers across state lines.
Who can report a police officer for decertification?
Any person who had a negative interaction with law enforcement that they believe qualifies as serious misconduct and warrants decertification can file a complaint. Civilian oversight bodies, such as police commissions, inspector generals, or local review boards, can also file a complaint.
Once a police department receives allegations of serious officer misconduct, they are required to report those allegations to POST.
What counts as serious misconduct under SB 2?
How do I file a complaint of serious misconduct and request an officer be decertified?
You should first create a paper trail by filing a complaint to the local law enforcement or oversight agency where the offending officer is employed. You can also submit your complaint to POST so that there is a record of them receiving it. However, in most cases, POST will refer the complaint back to the local agency to conduct their initial investigation. Once the initial investigation is complete, POST will review the findings to see if the officer’s conduct warrants decertification.
You can submit a complaint to POST using this digital form https://post.ca.gov/public-complaint-form. If you prefer filing a hard copy complaint and mailing it to POST, you can download the PDF form here https://post.ca.gov/Portals/0/post_docs/forms/2-354.pdf.
If new evidence arises after you submitted the original complaint, you can submit the new details in a supplemental complaint to POST.
Lastly, if the complaint is regarding anything other than serious misconduct as defined above, it will be out of the purview of POST and will not be investigated by POST as a consideration for decertification.
How can I check to see how many police officers in my area have been decertified?
POST periodically updates a list of officers that have been suspended or decertified. You can access the list at https://post.ca.gov/Decertification-List. All decertification records are public and will be retained for 30 years.
Which state agency is responsible for handling serious misconduct complaints?
The state agency responsible for processing police officer misconduct complaints is the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST). SB 2 created a new branch under POST, the Peace Officer Standards Accountability Division, which is tasked with the power to investigate and to decertify officers who engage in serious misconduct.
What happens when a police officer is reported to POST?
When the local police agency completes their investigation, they are then required to report the finding to POST, including all relevant documents and details. POST will refrain from investigating until the agency finishes its internal investigation.
Once POST receives the results of the investigation, which can include potential discipline, including officer suspension or termination, they evaluate whether the violation qualifies as serious misconduct. If it does not, POST closes its investigation. But if they discover that misconduct did occur, POST will make a recommendation to decertify the offending officer.
The officer facing decertification will have a chance to appeal POST’s ruling. If they choose to do so, the complaint will be reviewed by a civilian-led advisory board composed of seven public members and two police representatives. The civilian board conducts a public hearing on the decertification case and then makes written recommendations to POST by majority vote on what action should be taken against the officer.
POST then reviews the civilian board’s recommendations. If a two-third majority supports the civilian board’s decision to decertify, a formal hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) will be initiated. The judge will make its ruling, but POST has the ultimate authority on whether to proceed with decertification.
What else did SB 2 do?
SB 2 also requires that all local law enforcement agencies report officers who are fired or separated from employment to POST within 10 days. This includes any involuntary termination, resignation, or retirement.
SB also ends certain officer immunities that were previously used to shield police from accountability, making it easier to sue officers over threats, intimidation, or coercion that interferes with a person’s constitutional rights.
Watch our webinar
We co-hosted a community webinar to explain how police decertification works. Below is the recording, with links to the major sections.
- Introduction (0:00-5:14).
- Purpose of SB 2 webinar and SB 2 background (5:14- 14:24).
- Who is POST? (14:25-16:01).
- Grounds for decertification (17:22-31:43).
- SB 2 decertification process (32:09-42:50).
- How do I file a complaint of serious misconduct and request an officer be decertified? (46:20-51:30).
- Other ways to get involved with SB 2 (51:43-55:13).
- Presenters contact information for follow up questions regarding webinar content (1:11:35)