Efforts to Weed Out Extremists Among Police Meet Resistance

In the battle to stamp out extremism from the ranks of the police, lawmakers from California to Minnesota have proposed solutions they thought were straightforward.

Some laws would empower the police to do more robust background checks of recruits, letting them vet social media to make sure new officers were not members of hate groups. Other laws would make it easier for departments to fire officers with ties to extremists.

But legislators working to get these measures passed in recent months have found themselves confronting a thicket of obstacles and somewhat unexpected opposition, ranging from straight Republican vs. Democrat clashes to profound questions about protecting constitutional rights.

Last month, a police officer in Fresno, California, was fired after videos surfaced that showed him supporting the Proud Boys at a protest. “Such ideology, behavior and affiliations have no place in law enforcement and will not be tolerated within the ranks of the Fresno Police Department,” the police chief said.

Yet when lawmakers in the state recently proposed legislation to give police departments more power to weed out officers with extremist ties, they met resistance.

Brian Marvel, president of the Peace Officers Research Association of California, said in a statement that the organization supported the idea but not the legislation that was drafted. It would “infringe on a person’s individual rights,” he said, and possibly prevent someone from becoming an officer based on personal beliefs, religion or other interests.

Police officers, like everybody else, enjoy First Amendment rights to free speech and free assembly, so the challenge for lawmakers is figuring out how to preserve those rights while barring extremists from infiltrating the ranks.

California is one of four states, including Oregon, Minnesota and Tennessee, along with Washington, D.C., that have proposed new laws to give law enforcement agencies more power to exclude officers with ties to extremism.

Police officers prepare to disperse protesters in Portland, Ore., on Nov. 4, 2020. The state is considering a bill that would allow potential officers to be screened more closely. (Mason Trinca/The New York Times)

Such efforts have been simmering around the country for years, spurred by FBI reports starting more than 15 years ago that document a concerted effort by white supremacist and other extremist organizations to infiltrate the police.

The events of Jan. 6 brought new momentum to those efforts, with more than 30 active or retired police officers coming under scrutiny for joining protests in Washington, and at least seven facing charges for storming the Capitol.

“When Jan. 6 happened, it gave an even more visceral sense as to why this kind of legislation was necessary,” said Ash Kalra, a Democratic member of the California Assembly. “This has been a long-term problem that really has not been directly addressed by law enforcement agencies.”

Racist gangs among Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies have been a problem for decades. In Virginia, Texas, Florida, Michigan, Nebraska and Louisiana, law enforcement officers have been dismissed in recent years for ties to the Ku Klux Klan. And various agencies have been shaken by revelations of police officers exchanging derogatory remarks about minorities on social media, with the Philadelphia Police Department dismissing 13 of the 72 officers it put on leave in 2019 because of such Facebook posts.

There is little hard data on the number of American police officers with explicit ties to extremism, although senior officials have repeatedly characterized domestic extremism as an accelerating threat.

“We have a growing fear of domestic violent extremism and domestic terrorism,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said during a hearing on Capitol Hill last week.

Many legislators say that the spread in the country is mirrored in police departments.

Police officers themselves, at least those who acknowledge that there is an issue, tend to welcome the idea that added scrutiny will drive bad officers away. Major unions in California have supported the general idea of scrutinizing applicants more closely, but they opposed the first draft in February of a law that would reject all candidates who had been members of hate groups, participated in their activities or publicly expressed sympathy for them.

They feared that the legal basis for defining extremist groups was overly broad, and that members of organizations opposing abortion or same-sex marriage might be ensnared by the law.

Legislators in California negotiated compromise language for the bill with the main police unions in Los Angeles, San Jose and San Francisco, which then endorsed the change. The settled-upon language says, “No member of a hate group should be in law enforcement and if you are a member of one of these groups don’t apply, you have no place in our profession.” Still, some police officers and unions in California reject the modified legislation because of issues of civil rights and freedom of speech.

Some legal experts agree. The proposed measures are all bound to prompt challenges on constitutional grounds, said Philip M. Stinson, a former police officer who is now a professor of criminal justice at Bowling Green State University. It would be preferable to prohibit certain types of behavior rather than to focus on membership in an organization, he said.

“The idea that we can systematically reform policing through a bevy of legislative actions in short order, I don’t think that is possible,” he said.

In Oregon, state Rep. Janelle Bynum began last summer to shepherd a new bill to screen potential officers more closely.

Given Oregon’s history of opposition to changing laws governing the police, she and her allies consulted senior police officers throughout the state before writing the bill. They narrowly focused it on screening officers before they enter the force, allowing law enforcement agencies to review applicants’ social media posts. Although the legislation seeks to establish a uniform background check for Oregon police officers, it leaves it up to individual law enforcement agencies to set their own rules on issues like hate speech. The bill does state that “racism has no place in public safety.”

“We are trying to thread that needle to ensure those rights, but also not to tolerate any type of hate group,” said state Rep. Ronald H. Noble, a former small-town police chief who entered the Oregon House after 28 years with law enforcement. A Republican, he forged a rare bipartisan effort with Bynum, a Democrat, to craft the bill.

Daryl Turner, the head of the Portland Police Association, said he endorsed the heightened vetting because it left it up to individual departments how to deal with extremist candidates.

Officers must hold themselves to high standards, Turner said in a statement, and “the degree that this legislation accomplishes that is going to depend in large part on prudent and careful implementation at the agency level.”

In Washington, D.C., the new police chief, Robert Contee III, has expressed support for an independent screening mechanism for police officers that is expected to become law by the fall. The measure has faced little criticism there, which the city councilwoman who proposed it, Janeese Lewis George, attributed to a year of traumatic demonstrations over policing and social justice issues, as well as the storming of the Capitol.

Standards vary widely among police departments for how to confront extremists because many of the 18,000 law enforcement agencies across the United States set their own. They have their own contract language, as well, plus state labor laws differ.

In Minnesota and Tennessee, the proposed laws bar current officers from being affiliated with white supremacist or other hate groups. The Minnesota bill is subject to negotiation between the Republican-controlled Senate and the Democratic majority in the House, while in Tennessee the Republican-controlled Senate has already stalled the bill.

In Minnesota, the death of George Floyd at the hands of a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, who was convicted of murder last month, brought new scrutiny to relations between the Minneapolis police and the city’s Black and Latino communities.

State Rep. Cedrick Frazier, a Democrat, thought the circumstances would make it easier to pass a new law barring any police affiliation with white supremacist organizations, even if Chauvin was not directly linked to any. He was wrong.

While Frazier’s Republican colleagues did not oppose the idea, they said they found it insufficient. State Rep. Eric Lucero sought to add other organizations to the ban, including al-Qaida, al-Shabab and Hezbollah, along with members of anarchist, environmental and animal rights groups.

The proposed bill moved out of the House criminal justice reform committee on a straight party-line vote. Among the amendments, Frazier sought to preserve one clause focused on white supremacy.

“This is about building trust within the Black community, and a large part of that is addressing the issue of white supremacy,” he said.

In Oregon, Bynum said the bill was prompted by both the intense protests over the past year and earlier conflicts.

One of them was a prolonged episode involving a Portland policeman, Mark Kruger, who was off duty when he hung plaques honoring five Nazi-era German soldiers in a city park around the year 2000. A decade later, when they were exposed, a review board found that Kruger had brought “discredit and disgrace” to the police.

When Kruger countered that he was merely a history buff exercising his First Amendment rights and threatened to sue, the city settled, withdrawing the criticism while erasing his suspension with 80 hours of vacation plus $5,000.

After 26 years on the force, he retired as a captain in 2020, not long before Bynum began formulating the new law.

For Bynum, getting a statement of principle against extremism set into law would be an important first step.

“Essentially, you have to move the ball,” she said.

Katie Benner contributed reporting.

c.2021 The New York Times Company


  1. Without, I suspect, a single exception, every police executive in this nation has during his or her career supported the systemic racial and gender discrimination known as affirmative action. Though I don’t doubt that a significant percentage of them disliked contradicting their personal commitment to fairness and sworn allegiance to objectivity, they nonetheless accepted the politics of the social extremists, turned their backs on its very human victims, and climbed the ignominious ladder of success.

    What we see now are these same executives being arm-twisted into accepting another directive from the radical commissars, this one requiring not just the denial of positions and promotions, but denying American citizens their political liberty (yes, police officers and police applicants are citizens!). Will these “top cops” cave again? The smart money says yes. These so-called leaders have been chasing the progressive carrot their entire careers, so it would be foolish to expect them to suddenly discover they stand for something other than their own well-being.

    If any of us are free to read books, assemble peacefully, speak freely, and petition the government, then so too must be the men and women in law enforcement, otherwise you can strike the word “civilian” from civilian law enforcement and replace it with “political.” And if you think the witch hunt will stop with the cops then you’re dumb enough to deserve the hell that’s coming to you and your children.

  2. Paul:

    You clearly haven’t read the FBI stats on Police on civilian shootings and vs versa. Or, on the other hand, you have and are merely a hate-filled bigot and racist. Your post should be removed as it clearly calls for violence against the police. I note that no one from the Leftest/Marxists posters has condemned you or call for your post to be removed. I note that the SJ Inside hasn’t removed it either.

  3. The question that I have is that the term “extremism” seems like it is only referencing white extremists. Will it be equally applied? Will the extremist on the Left, the Marxists, the Black Panthers, the Nation of Islam followers, etc. all be excluded? If so, I can support this type of law.

  4. Pau: Here are a few facts the put the lie to your vicious and hateful comment:

    If anyone doubts the accuracy of these numbers, they are available at Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program — FBI https://www.fbi.gov/services/ cjis/ucr

    According to the FBI Uniform Crime Report and the Washington Post, last year there were 10 million arrests by police. 10 Million!!

    Out of those 10 MILLION arrests, there were 1,004 officer-involved fatalities.

    Out of those 1,004 officer-involved fatalities, 41 were unarmed.

    Out of those 41-officer involved unarmed fatalities (now you might find it hard to believe I know), but out of 41 deaths, now hear this…19 were white – 9 were black.

    Now 1 is 1 too many, but to me, 41 out of 10 million is a pretty small percentage! (.00041%)

    Now ask me how many police officers were killed in the line of duty. C’mon, take a wild guess.

    89 police officers were killed. Where was the news media when those took place?

    Just to bring it home, guess as how many people were shot in CHICAGO just this last weekend? In Chicago last weekend 82 people were shot within a 48-hour period.

    Of those 82 people, 19 people died.

    Yes, you got it. In Chicago last weekend alone, there were more black people killed by black people than were killed by police in all of last year!

    The hypocrisy is mind-blowing. BLM is based on the lie of police brutality and racism. Now go ahead, do the research and see for yourself.”

    The above quote is by: Bernard Kerik, former NYPD Police Commissioner

    If you would like to follow the crime stats in Chicago, here is a good source:



  5. “Efforts to Weed Out Extremists Among Police Meet Resistance”

    You guys totally confused me now. Weed is good for everyone now isn’t it???

    I smell it everywhere I go now……..

  6. This discussion is important and happening on several levels. You want to prevent bad police officers from ever joining the force and many departments do facilitate extensive background checks. There is a legitimate concern about the definitions being used and the application for other groups who are not majority white. The vast majority of police are good and the bad ones come in all shapes, sizes, race. The constant attention on one particular group is going to cause some legal issues when talking about police reform or reform in general. For example Steven Miler runs a new legal organization, America Legal First, funded by Trump and his group. They are already suing the federal government for programs like the one that supports Black farmers that are economically disadvantaged, but they are trying to make the case that anyone poor, regardless of color is economically disadvantaged and they have an equal right to that assistance. I’m not a fan of Trump by any stretch but it is hard to deny that the focus on one particular group is going to cause a lot of legal issues. Similar to a bill going through Washington DC that is focused on “white supremacy” in police but does not acknowledge that other groups can also have radical, potentially dangerous (and similar) objectives. It has never worked to single out one group and sadly there is a lot of unfounded demonizing of police officers and white people. Blaming people today for things they have no ties to yet telling them they are “so racist they just do not know it.” That is the ultimate gaslighting and going to result in people justifying violence against a group of people they think are essentially terrorists, simply because of their skin color. It’s undeniable at this point and sort of confusing and sad.

    So the AG may be “afraid” but feelings aren’t what creates laws and policies. I hope everyone agrees on this effort but moves from blaming one group for all of the issues or we are not going to solve anything.

  7. “You want to prevent bad police officers from ever joining the force and many departments do facilitate extensive background checks.” — Opinion

    For more than 70 years the group leading the call for, and most responsible for improvements in, hiring has been law enforcement itself, primarily the unions and associations of the officers themselves (often having to resort to lawsuits). The responsibility to improve their ranks fell to them due to the corrupt tendencies of city leaders who worked tirelessly to defeat a Civil Service System that deprived them of goodies with which to trade.

    Today’s background investigations, not checks, are thorough and, though costly, ultimately cost-effective (an ancillary effect of hiring good people is the reduction of liability). Nevertheless, the hiring process is still routinely contravened by city leaders, including police chiefs, eager to trade jobs and promotions for favor with minority groups (who have duped the public into believing they seek fairness).

    It would be a cold day in hell before Joe Biden passed a police background check, same for Kamala Harris, Nancy Pelosi, Gavin Newsom, Donald Trump, or any of the other narcissistic, pathological liars that dominate the political landscape. This is really nothing new, however, with the complete collapse of honest, objective journalism in America politicians of one stripe (guess which) go unrestrained and the calamities they engineer arrive without the public having been forewarned of the idiocy at the helm. In Joe Biden, the alleged majority, aided and abetted by the news media, has put a confused old man, squinting behind his blue blockers, at the wheel of a speeding big rig and endangered the lives and property of every American.

  8. Steven: You are such a fraud. Just above, in this group of postings, you used the term, “Take your Meds,” addressed to me. So how is that pejorative term different that using the word “deranged?” Either way you are implying/insinuating the other person is mentally ill, right? So climb off your rocking high-horse. I note that you have not even called for a post to be removed that calls for the killing of people and yet you whine about hurt feelings.

    For me, I would much prefer a civil discussion.

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