State Sen. Ed Davis, a former Los Angeles chief of police, received special permission Wednesday to seek quick passage of a bill that would make it a felony for a peace officer to stand by and watch another officer use unnecessary force on a suspect.
The Santa Clarita Republican said his bill is intended to plug a hole in existing law that prevented the filing of charges against a group of officers who witnessed the March 3 beating of Rodney G. King by Los Angeles police officers.
The bill would make it a felony punishable by a prison term for a law officer to fail to take "reasonable" steps to stop a violent incident such as the King battering. If convicted, the officer also would be barred from employment as a peace officer in California.
As an urgency bill, the Davis measure states that its immediate enactment into law is necessary for the "preservation of the public peace, health or safety" of Californians and to "adequately restrain and control the susceptibility of peace officers toward using excessive force." However, the bill is likely to face opposition from influential police unions.
Davis, who often stirred controversy during his 1969-78 tenure as chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, missed the March 8 deadline for introducing legislation and appeared before the Senate Rules Committee to ask for a special waiver. The committee complied.
Davis told the committee he was sickened by the beating of King and was surprised to learn that no state law makes it illegal for police officers who witness such an incident to be charged with a crime.
Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner of Los Angeles County said last week that a grand jury could not indict any of the 17 Los Angeles police officers who stood by at the scene because they violated no law by their failure to intercede in the videotaped incident. Four other officers were indicted, however.
"They are paid to do their duty and they didn't do it," Davis said.
Basically, the bill would require a peace officer to take "reasonable" steps to restrain or arrest an officer engaged in a newly created offense called "felonious use of force." If the witnessing officer did not take such action or failed to file a report on the offending officer, he or she would be criminally liable and could be sent to prison for up to three years on each charge.
Additionally, a lifetime ban would be imposed on a convicted officer being hired in law enforcement. Current law bars felons from employment as law enforcement officers, but Davis said his bill would clear away possible conflicts with local ordinances on the hiring and firing of police.
Senate leader David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles), author of a less potent bill, told Davis "you are on the right track," but said he did not believe felony punishments should be applicable in all cases because circumstances might vary.