Assembly Member Kalra’s Bill becomes law; Mandates additional screening for law enforcement officers



A bill introduced by Assemblymember Ash Kalra (D-San Jose) for the screening of law enforcement agencies’ candidates for possible links to hate groups that promote hate crimes or genocide is now a law. California Governor Gavin Newsom on September 30 signed AB 655, the California Law Enforcement Accountability (CLEAR) Act, authored by Assemblymember Kalra and sponsored by San Jose State University Human Rights Institute (SJSU HRI) and California Faculty Association (CFA).

The CLEAR Act which seeks to combat the infiltration of law enforcement agencies by extremists was introduced on the heels of the January 6 insurrection at the US Capitol and amplified by a 2022 report from the California State Auditor on police conduct and bias. The bill would require law enforcement agencies to check whether their candidates have any links or have participated in a hate group that promotes hate crimes or genocide.

“AB 655 is a timely response to increase much-needed public trust in law enforcement. Members of violent groups have no place in our law enforcement agencies and should not be able to possess a badge or the authority and power that comes with it,” said Assemblymember Kalra. “The CLEAR Act will provide law enforcement agencies and the public with a legal tool to root out those who would jeopardize public safety with extremist and violent behavior.”

Assemblymember Ash Kalra was first elected to the California Legislature in 2016, representing the 27th District, which encompasses approximately half of San Jose and includes all of downtown. In 2020, he was re-elected to his third term. Assemblymember Kalra is the Chair of the State Assembly Labor and Employment Committee and currently serves as a member of the Housing and Community Development, Judiciary, Transportation, and Water, Parks, and Wildlife committees.

The infiltration of law enforcement agencies by extremist organizations has been well-documented, including two decades of reports by federal agencies and investigative journalists. California’s police departments have been tarnished with scandals involving officers expressing racist, homophobic, or threatening messages over social media. The State Auditor recently reviewed the public social media accounts of about 450 officers and found at least 17 posted negative stereotypes or deliberately hateful and derogatory speech directed at specific groups of people.

During the past fifteen years, the FBI has identified many organizations committed to “domestic terrorism”. These organizations include militia extremists and white supremacist extremists with active links to law enforcement.

“Without any coordinated federal response to this prevalent issue, the state must take action. The infiltration of law enforcement agencies by extremist organizations threatens the integrity of criminal investigations; jeopardizes the safety of elected officials, peace officers, and the public; and invites the biased and discriminatory application of laws and services,” states Assembly Bill 655. “While peace officers have the right to freedom of expression and association, the US Supreme Court has ruled that the government can limit employment opportunities in sensitive public sector jobs where group membership or speech would interfere with the performance of duties. The exercise of First Amendment protections by a peace officer is further curtailed when it causes or threatens to cause, actual harm or disruption to the mission and functions of a public safety agency.”

The bill pointed out that the dangers of employing peace officers with known hate group affiliations are amplified for those targeted by these organizations. This unsettling fact is well supported by years of research, including two decades of reports by federal agencies and investigative journalists. Additionally, on January 6, 2021, an insurrection at the US Capitol building by right-wing extremists appeared to have the cooperation, participation, and support of some law enforcement and military personnel. Together, these investigations and events underscore the threat that extremist infiltration poses to equal justice and the rule of law. “Continued failure to address extremism, racism, and bias among peace officers contributes to the erosion of public confidence in the legitimacy and fairness of our justice system,” it states.

AB 655 aims to increase public trust in law enforcement by rooting out those who would jeopardize public safety with their extremist and violent behavior. By introducing the CLEAR Act Assemblymember Kalra ensures that all peace officers in the state of California who apply for employment undergo a background check that includes examining whether they have participated in a hate group or advocated for public expressions of hate or violence. Furthermore, the discovery of the aforementioned behavior can become grounds for disciplinary review and termination.

“The SJSU HRI is proud to co-sponsor this critical legislation from Assemblymember Kalra to address the infiltration of law enforcement agencies by violent hate groups,” said SJSU HRI Director, Dr. Bill Armaline. “AB 655 takes great care to protect the civil liberties of public employees while empowering public oversight. We hope the CLEAR Act can be a model for police reform in the US.”

“The California Law Enforcement Accountability Reform Act is a step in the right direction to address bias in policing by, at the very least, making sure those who work in law enforcement are not participating in hate groups or advocating for racial violence. It’s important for our communities in general, but specifically our campus communities, to have law enforcement officials screened for participation in extremist activity. We should not tolerate racial bias and hatred in policing,” said Chris Cox, Associate Vice President of CFA’s Council for Racial & Social Justice, North.