Sacramento, CA – A California assembly member introduced legislation that would disqualify a person from being a police officer if they’ve ever used arbitrarily-defined “hate speech” or have had any affiliation with a “hate group.”
However, the definitions are so broad, there could be consequences for officers who oppose abortion.
California Assembly Member Ash Kalra introduced Assembly Bill 655 – the California Law Enforcement Accountability Reform Act (CLEAR Act) – on Feb 12 to fight “the infiltration of extremists in our law enforcement agencies.”
The goal of the proposed measure is to root out “those who would jeopardize public safety with extremist and violent behavior,” according to an informational paper sent to The Police Tribune by Kalra’s office.
The legislation would require all law enforcement agencies to screen potential recruits for membership or affiliation in hate groups.
It would also require agency background investigators to look for any public expressions of hate or usage of hate speech by law enforcement candidates.
“A finding during a preemployment background investigation of present or past participation in [hate speech]… shall be grounds for denial of employment as a peace officer,” according to the legislation.
The law would also require that any internal or external complaints about a law enforcement officers alleging such conduct be thoroughly investigated.
“A sustained complaint… shall be grounds for termination of a peace officer,” according to the proposed bill.
Any sustained complaints would be made available to the public, according to the proposed legislation.
The proposed legislation attempted to define several controversial or ambiguous terms that were used in Kalra’s bill.
AB 655 defined “hate group” as “an organization that, based upon its official statements or principles, the statements of its leaders, or its activities, supports, advocates for, or practices the denial of [constitutional] rights of, the genocide of, or violence towards, any group of persons based upon race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability.”
“Membership in a hate group,” as defined by AB 655, “means being, or holding oneself out as, an official member of a group, and can be indicated by actions or evidence including, without limitation, submitting an application for membership in a group, being listed on an official group membership roster, or publicly wearing or otherwise displaying any tattoo, uniform, insignia, flag, or logo that is reserved for members of the group.”
Hate speech – referred to as “public expression of hate” in AB 655 – is broadly described as “any explicit expression, either on duty or off duty and while identifying oneself as, or reasonably identifiable by others as, a peace officer, in a public forum, on social media including in a private discussion forum, in writing, or in speech, as advocating or supporting the denial of [constitutional] rights of, the genocide of, or violence towards, any group of persons based upon race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability.”
The new law would include the public display of any tattoo, uniform, insignia, flag, or logo that indicates support for the denial of [constitutional] rights of, the genocide of, or violence towards, any group of persons based upon race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability.”
Kalra’s document explained that AB 655 was written to address the heightened “reality and dangers of employing peace officers with known hate group affiliations” and pointed the finger for the Capitol riot.
“Most recently, the January 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol building by right wing extremists with the apparent cooperation, participation, and support of some law enforcement and military personnel, underscores the threat that extremist infiltration poses to equal justice and the rule of law,” according to Kalra.
The Police Tribune reached out to the California State Sheriffs’ Association for comment but a spokeswoman said they were still reviewing the bill and haven’t take a position yet.
Matthew McReynolds, staff attorney for the Pacific Justice Institute, said in a letter to the State Assembly’s Committee on Public Safety that he was concerned the broad and purposefully arbitrary definitions in the proposed measure.
McReynolds said the language in the bill could lead to conservative law enforcement officers and candidates being classified as “hateful” based on their opposition to abortion or other such things.
He also questioned how AB 655 would affect Muslims who have taken a stance against homosexuality.
“Under the guise of addressing police gangs, the bill at the same time launches an inexplicable, unwarranted, and unprecedented attack on peaceable, conscientious officers who happen to hold conservative political and religious views,” McReynolds wrote. “Indeed, this is one of the most undisguised and appalling attempts we have ever seen, in more than 20 years of monitoring such legislation, on the freedom of association and freedom to choose minority viewpoints.”