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New California law allows non-U.S. Citizens to become police officers

With the new year, comes new state laws, including a 2023 law that changed the qualifications to become a police officer in California.

SAN DIEGO — With the new year, comes new state laws, including one that changed the qualifications to become a police officer in California.

Now, anyone who can legally work in the state under federal law, can be a police officer, regardless of citizenship.

CBS 8 cleared up some misconceptions about the new law by going directly to the State Senator who wrote the bill, and we talked with the San Diego Police Officers Association about their concerns.

“The San Diego Police Department has lost over 500 officers since July of 2020. That's drastic. We need everyone we can to be able to be a police officer. However, we are not in favor of reducing the requirements and lowering the standards,” said Sgt. Jared Wilson, speaking as President and on behalf of the San Diego Police Officer's Association.

Wilson said they do have concerns about the new California law that changed the qualifications to become a police officer in the state.

Prior to Jan. 1, 2023, you had to be a United States citizen or permanent resident to qualify for the job.

Now, that's no longer the case. Anyone who is legally authorized to work in the state of California, under federal law, with the proper green card or visa, is eligible to become a police officer. 

State Senator Nancy Skinner is the author of Senate Bill 960, which changed the requirement.

“When you look at California's rules, almost every other profession, lawyers, doctors… even firefighters… are able to be part of that profession as long as they have full legal authorization, full federal legal work authorization. It was only our sworn officers we restricted that way,” said Skinner. She added, “Ironically in the military, you could be an officer in the military, and you could not be a peace officer in California. So that's why we felt it was totally right to fix the rule.”

To make things perfectly clear, Skinner said this in no way applies to undocumented workers. She said a person has to have full legal work authorization, under federal law; people who pay taxes and have every ability to work legally in the U.S.

Senator Skinner said it was the University of California Police Department that first reached out and pushed for the change. During a time when police departments across the state are struggling to fill positions, UC David Police Chief Joe Farrow testified at an Assembly Public Safety Committee Hearing on June 1, 2002, that they see a lot of stellar candidates in their programs, who they ultimately can't hire.

“We wanted to come to the legislature to see if we can't change that law and that's why i'm here today,” said Chief Farrow.

SB 960 passed, changing things for people like UC Davis graduate and DACA recipient Ernesto Moron, who attended the UC Police Academy and passed the background check, but wasn't eligible to be hired as an officer, until now.

“This bill will allow me, and countless others, the opportunity to fulfill my dream to serve the communities where I was raised, educated and live as a sworn police officer,” testified Moron.

The SDPOA says, while they don't support the new law, they do acknowledge it will help people like Moron.

“The public demands and deserves a high quality police force and officers that meet stringent standards, so we're not in favor of low in these standards at all,” said Wilson. “However, I think there's a handful of people who have been in this country a long time we'll be able to hire as a result of this, and hopefully they become citizens, but lowering standards is not the right answer to fill in our ranks,” he added.

Senator Skinner said removing this requirement is not lowering the standards of what it takes to be a peace officer.

“They would still have to meet every other qualification,” she said, including a rigorous background checking, graduating from a police academy, and every other requirement that all candidates must meet.

“We are not forcing any police department or law enforcement agency to hire that category of people,” Skinner explained. “We're just removing the restriction that has been removed in the military. It has been removed for firefighters, for lawyers, for doctors. So we felt like it was appropriate to also remove it for our police officers.”

Senator Skinner says the California Police Chiefs Association supports this new law. She said they “Were completely in support of the bill because they are struggling to fill vacancies. They are struggling to recruit people for their academies, so they felt like, ‘why would we restrict people that otherwise meet all of our requirements from being able to serve their communities in this way?’”

CBS 8 contacted the San Diego Police Department and the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department to see if they will be hiring based on the new law.

The San Diego Police Department spokesperson said:

 “We have worked with City Human Resources to change our bulletin to reflect the changes of SB 960 and citizenship requirements for applicants. Each applicant, no matter their citizenship status, would go through the same testing and background process.”

A Sheriff’s Department spokesperson told CBS 8, among all other requirements, applicants “must be able to meet this requirement: Be legally authorized to work in the United States under federal law.”

WATCH RELATED: San Diego approves nation's first childcare center for police officers (July 2022).

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