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AB 655 – Requires Law Enforcement Agencies To Investigate Peace Officer Involvement In Hate Groups Or Hate Speech; Makes Hate-Related Activity Automatic Grounds For Disqualification
AB 655 makes several changes to the law aimed at screening out peace officers or peace officer candidates who are or have engaged in hate-related activities, including membership of a hate group, participation in a hate group activity, or advocacy of public expressions of hate. The bill defines a “hate group” as an organization that supports, advocates for, threatens, or practices genocide or the commission of hate crimes. “Hate crimes” has the same meaning as in Penal Code Section 422.55, i.e. any criminal act committed at least in part because of the victim’s actual or perceived disability, gender, race, religion, or other protected characteristics.
First, the bill requires that any background investigation of a candidate for peace officer positions must assess whether the candidate is or has been engaged in hate-related activities. If the background check reveals the candidate engaged in such conduct within the past seven years and after the age of 18, the hiring agency must deny employment to the candidate. A candidate for a peace officer position is not ineligible for employment if the hate-related activity was at least seven years in the past and the candidate is no longer engaged in such activity.
Second, AB 655 requires any law enforcement agency to investigate any complaint (whether internal or from the public) that alleges that a peace officer employed by that agency engaged in hate-related activities within the last seven years of membership in a hate group, participation in any hate group activity, or advocacy of public expressions of hate. If the complaint is sustained, AB 655 would require the agency to terminate the peace officer.
The bill tasks the Department of Justice with issuing guidance for local agencies on how to investigate and adjudicate these complaints. The bill also makes an exception for activities that were part of an undercover assignment in the course of employment as a peace officer or bona fide academic or journalistic research.
Third, AB 655 provides that where a sustained finding is made by a public agency that a peace officer engaged in hate-related activity, any records related to that investigation or complaint are categorically not confidential and must be made available for public inspection under the Public Records Act, subject to limited redactions.
The requirements under AB 655 to automatically reject candidates or terminate current officers found to have engaged in a hate-related activity are separate from the peace officer decertification process established by 2021’s Senate Bill 2. However, the circumstances covered by AB 655 will in many cases overlap with the provision of Senate Bill 2 that makes “demonstrating bias” on the basis of a protected status grounds for decertification.
(AB 655 adds Sections 13680 through 13683 to the Penal Code.)