Governor Gavin Newsom pictured alongside community leaders and the families of victims of police brutality. Image provided by Creative Commons.

On Sept. 30 2021, Gavin Newsom signed 8 new bills into California law. All of which came as a direct response to the mistreatment of civilians, mainly communities of color, at the hands of police officers over the past year. Justice reform activists across the country have long voiced their concerns surrounding the rampant police brutality, lack of accountability and systemic inequalities. However, following the Black Lives Matter movement and the tragic death of George Floyd in May of 2020, legislation is finally being passed in an effort to better serve marginalized communities.

Among the 8 bills are AB-89 and AB-26. AB-89 was authored by Los Angeles’s Reggie Jones Sawyer and requires potential officers to be at least 21 years of age before joining the police force. PCC Police Cadet students should be mindful of AB-89, because it means that further schooling than before will be required in order to become an officer for those who do want to join the police force after leaving PCC. Raising the recruitment age from 18 to 21 is meant to give young cadets’ brains more time to develop, as well as more opportunities for education and self-enrichment before they are able to serve the public.

As the bill states, “scientific evidence on young adult development and neuroscience shows that certain areas of the brain, particularly those affecting judgment and decision making, do not develop until the early to mid-20s,” (AB-89, 2021).

Although this new law might seem like an obstacle for prospective police officers, lawmakers have decided that it is a necessary precaution for the safety of the public. The primary sentiment of the bill comes down to education. If police officers are more informed and knowledgeable when it comes to both their job and their interpersonal skills, they are less likely to act in a way that is dangerous to both civilians and to themselves.

A study has also shown that better educated officers perform better in the academy, receive higher supervisor evaluations, have fewer disciplinary problems and accidents, are assaulted less often, and miss fewer days of work than their counterparts,” (AB-89, 2021).

PCC Chief of Police Steven Matchan explains that the new bill will not affect any part of the PCC Police Cadet program, because of the fact that Cadets are “professional experts, non-sworn police personnel who assist the college community”.

A large component of AB-89 is the desire to thoroughly educate police officers before they are able to join the force. Raising the minimum age from 18 to 21 is important because it means future officers will have to go through an extra 3 years of schooling before they are able to serve the public.

“It has been my experience to have met very mature 18 year olds and very immature 21 year olds. This is where I believe, each person, depending on their personal life experiences, matures differently, and provides them the right mental development and character to serve,” Chief Matchan, who is also a former Marine explained. “That is why it is very important for police leaders to focus on the needs of the community and the type of personnel it will take to serve that community”.

AB-26 was also signed into legislation last week. The bill was authored by Pasadena Assemblymember Chris Holden and targets the use of excessive force against civilians. Under AB-26, officers are required to immediately report incidents of police brutality. In the event that excessive force was used but not necessary, or there was a feasible solution that would not have required bodily injury to a person. This law helps hold offending officers accountable by putting pressure on the officers who witness police brutality yet stay quiet.

“AB-26 provides us with the opportunity to build more trust between the police officers and the communities that they serve,” Assemblymember Holden said during the press conference the day of the bill signing. Newsom’s decision to sign the series of bills is a significant step towards the effort to rebuild the police force and establishes California’s role as the spearhead of the movement towards criminal justice reform.

A full list of all the bills signed on Sept. 30 can be found here.

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