February 09, 2023

By Asm. Reggie Jones-Sawyer

Contributing writer


For decades multiple police agencies across the country have been under scrutiny for abuses of department policies and Civil Rights violations. When the March 3, 1991, video of Rodney King’s beating by members of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) surfaced, the entire world was able to witness the police brutality that many in the inner cities across our nation had been experiencing for generations.

The murder of Tyre Nichols at the hands of Memphis, Tennessee officers is another example of a toxic and pervasive culture within police departments. Based upon the video, these officers were acting as individuals working outside the boundaries of the law and using their badges to shield them from personal responsibility.

With so many viral videos of police officers knowingly violating their own department’s policies and applying lethal force when completely unnecessary, why does it continue to occur?


As Chair of the California Assembly’s Public Safety Committee, I have asked many in the public safety sphere, including retired members of law enforcement, that very question.

Whether it is Chicago, New York, or South Los Angeles, the warrior culture of police departments has deep roots in slave catching training and beatings.

The culture is so pervasive that in Los Angeles, the LAPD was placed under a five-year consent decree to enact reforms within the department. More recently the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s department has had to contend with investigations into multiple Sheriff gangs made up of its own officers.

Better and updated training is one aspect of reform, but the recruitment process also needs to be revamped.

In the case of the Memphis officers, two of the five charged with the killing of Mr. Nichols had joined the force in 2020, just two years after the police department lowed its educational requirements. According to a New York Post article, Memphis officers no longer need an Associates Degree, or 54 college credits to join the force.

Education is crucial aspect in being an effective and balanced officer. Understanding this, I wrote AB 89, a bill that was signed into law in 2022, and raises the minimum standards for all new peace officers to be 21 years of age (California previously required 18 years of age), and requires the California Community Colleges (CCC), alongside advisors, to develop a framework for a modern policing degree program for new peace officers in California.

Also, known as the Peace Officers Education and Age Conditions for Employment (P.E.A.C.E.) Act, AB 89 raises the standards for officers in California. As a result of this bill, soon all new officers in California will be older, more mature, and either possess an associate’s degree in modern policing or a bachelor’s degree. This is in line with data that shows older and more educated officers are less likely to use excessive force, receive fewer disciplinary write-ups, and are generally more effective law enforcement officials.

No one questions the risks involved in being a police officer. But a modern police department, and the communities they represent, need a more informed, well-rounded, experienced officer to help better assess situations.

By lowering the educational standards of officers, departments are inviting unexperienced recruits into their ranks, many of whom tend to advocate for the militarization of law enforcement, advancing the warrior mentality while patrolling our neighborhoods.

The fact that officers have been caught on video, with their knowledge, whether by a member of the public, or on their own body cameras, using excessive force is clear indication that they believe little to no action will be taken against them for their actions.

The use of qualified immunity has something to do with this, as does the unofficial training that has officers on video repeatedly yelling at suspects “stop resisting”, or in the case the case of Mr. Nichols,” give me your hands”, while he was subdued with arms already restrained.  The brotherhood code to protect your own is seemingly greater than that of protecting and serving communities, or in the case of countless people of color, human life.

For those officers who do adhere to their oaths, and there are many, they continue to make policing a noble profession and they should be thanked for their service. But by no means should law enforcement seek to meet recruitment quotas by checking boxes and lowering acceptance standards. It only brings about the less desirable which is not only dangerous, but for Tyre Nichols and many others deadly.

Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer is the Chair of the Assembly’s Public Safety Committee and a Member of the California Reparations Task Force. The Assemblymember represents the 57th Assembly District including the communities of Exposition Park, downtown Los Angeles, including Skid Row and has a family legacy of involvement in the Civil Rights Movement beginning with his uncle who was a member of the Little Rock Nine, nine Black students integrated into an all-white high school in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957.

Category: Opinion