Court upholds broad release of police misconduct records in California

A new law granting public access to police misconduct records and investigations of officers’ use of force applies to all records that existed when the law took effect this year no matter when they were created, a state appeals court has ruled in a decision with immediate statewide impact.Police unions in numerous localities, including Contra Costa County and five of its cities in the current case, sued to block release of records created before 2019. The unions, which had opposed the disclosure law in the Legislature, contend the law was not drafted to apply to earlier records.

Superior Court judges around the state have generally disagreed with the unions. But in the first decision with broad impact, the First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco late Friday published an earlier two-page order in the Contra Costa case making all existing records available to the public.

While the police unions had argued that applying the law to pre-2019 records would make it impermissably retroactive, the court said it was applying the law to events that happened after it took effect — requests by members of the public for documents a police agency already possessed.

Making officers’ records public also doesn’t impose any new penalties or other legal consequences for the officers’ previous acts, the court said, but “changes only the public’s right to access peace officer records.”

By issuing the ruling, Presiding Justice Stuart Pollak and Justices Alison Tucher and Tracie Brown upheld a decision by Superior Court Judge Charles Treat. As the first published appellate decision on the issue, it is binding on trial courts statewide unless another appeals court publishes a contrary ruling or the state Supreme Court intervenes. Police groups in other counties have asked the state’s high court to take up their case, but the court has refused.

“For the first time in a long time, the Legislature has decided it’s really important for public trust in law enforcement and the administration of justice in this state for people to be able to obtain records of serious incidents of police misconduct,” Tenaya Rodewald, a lawyer arguing for release of the records, said Monday. The American Civil Liberties Union and the California First Amendment Coalition also participated, along with several news organizations. The Chronicle has filed public records requests under the new law.

Michael Rains, the police unions’ lawyer, said the ruling reflected courts that “I don’t think … give one hoot about the rights of police officers,” including the right to keep their personnel records confidential. He said he would not appeal the Contra Costa case, since the records would already have been released, but the issue is still pending in appellate courts elsewhere in the state.

For decades, California has had some of the nation’s most stringent confidentiality standards for police personnel records. The new law, SB1421 by Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, allows members of the public to obtain records of police disciplinary agencies that found officers had committed sexual assault or engaged in dishonest conduct at work, and of all investigations of an officer’s use of a firearm or of some type of deadly force.

Records cannot be disclosed if they would identify a confidential witness or informant, endanger an officer or interfere with a criminal investigation.

Rodewald said police organizations around the state have filed about 18 lawsuits challenging disclosure of records created before 2019. She said many police agencies, including those covered by the Contra Costa ruling, have begun releasing their records. And in a separate ruling Friday, a judge ordered the San Francisco Police Department to make its records public.

 

“Court upholds broad release of police misconduct records in California”, https://www.sfchronicle.com/bayarea/article/Court-upholds-broad-release-of-police-misconduct-13733312.php?psid=1R145

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Here are the stories about police misconduct uncovered so far by a new media partnership

By BEN POSTON and MAYA LAU

Here are the stories about police misconduct uncovered so far by a new media partnership
The California Reporting Project has filed requests with more than 600 law enforcement agencies and so far received records of hundreds of incidents in which officers used significant or deadly force, were found to have been dishonest or committed sexual misconduct. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Some police officers were disciplined for illegal sexual activity or dishonesty and evaded criminal prosecution. Others used deadly force but details of their actions have long remained out of the public’s view.

The California Reporting Project — a partnership of 33 newsrooms across the state — launched Tuesday in an effort to combine resources to review internal police records that became public under a new transparency law that took effect this year.

The Los Angeles Times is part of the collaborative, which has filed requests with more than 600 law enforcement agencies and so far received records of hundreds of incidents in which officers used significant or deadly force, were found to have been dishonest or committed sexual misconduct. Other members of the collaborative include KPCC, the Orange County RegisterKQED, the San Jose Mercury News, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat and other media outlets.

The documents reviewed by the collaborative provide a window into how California police departments evaluate misconduct, shootings and other force by their officers — issues that have fueled criticism that law enforcement agencies aren’t open enough with the people they serve.

Here’s some of the stories that have relied on records released under the new transparency law:

  • The Times detailed an investigation into a South Pasadena police officer who was fired after he admitted fleeing the scene of an off-duty crash. Cpl. Ryan Bernal had been drinking with colleagues at an after-work gathering before he crashed into a pole, which struck and damaged a home, according to internal records. Hours later, he accompanied his mother as she falsely told sheriff’s officials that she had been behind the wheel, the records show.
  • San Francisco-based KQED and the Bay Area News Group reported that a Rio Vista police officer entered a home in 2017 and immediately put a man in a chokehold for 20 seconds, which was captured in body camera images. That officer was fired. The radio station also found that two officers in Watsonville in Santa Cruz County had been fired in recent years for repeatedly having sex with civilians while on duty.
  • The San Diego Union-Tribune found a San Diego County sheriff’s lieutenant had embezzled more than $100,000 in donations from her church, according to an internal affairs investigation. She agreed to pay back the missing funds and was not prosecuted. She retired from the department in 2013. The newspaper also reported about a Chula Vista police officer who was fired last year for having sex while on duty and in uniform in a public area.
  • Last week, The Times published details from the first records released by the Los Angeles Police Department, which included officers fired in connection with allegations of sexual assault and of making false statements under oath.

The disclosure of the records marks a stark departure for California. For years, the state had the nation’s strictest laws on disclosing police personnel records, due in large part to the lobbying efforts of powerful law enforcement unions that wanted to keep the files confidential. All internal disciplinary records were confidential.

That changed last year with the passage of Senate Bill 1421, which allows for the release of records of shootings by officers, severe uses of force and confirmed cases of sexual assault and lying by officers.

 

BEN POSTON and MAYA LAU, MAR 19, 2019, LATimes, “Here are the stories about police misconduct uncovered so far by a new media partnership”, https://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-police-files-roundup-20190319-story.html


 

Burlingame cop fired for seeking sex from suspects

Police officer’s misconduct shared under a new state law designed to enhance transparency

A Burlingame police office was fired after an investigation found he offered to help a woman navigate her driving under the influence charge in return for sex, according to a report released under a new state law designed to enhance transparency.

Without authorization, former officer David Granucci took the phone number of a woman arrested in early March and scheduled an appointment at her house where he sexually propositioned her, according to the report released Monday, Jan. 7.

The woman refused his advance and reported Granucci, leading to discovery of a series of similar transgressions according to the summary released in accordance with a new law requiring police to adhere to more public records requests.

Burlingame Police Chief Mike Matteucci declined to comment on specific terms of the Granucci investigation, but said his department remains committed to examining misconduct concerns raised by residents.

“The department has long been committed to conducting thorough investigations of citizen complaints, and we take our obligations to the public seriously including the newly enhanced transparency requirements under state law,” he said in an email.

The new state law to which he refers is Senate Bill 1421, authored by state Sen. Nancy Skinner, D- Berkeley, who crafted legislation designed to enhance the authority of those seeking more information about police misconduct.

The law amends the state Public Records Act, and allows those requesting information about claims against police officers a clearer path toward tracking down complaint reports or summaries.

The information shared about Granucci is only a summary, as Matteucci said more time would be required to redact sensitive information before a comprehensive report is available.

From the limited material available though, Granucci apparently committed dozens of department policy violations in advance of his eventual termination in June. Reports of his misconduct were sent to the District Attorney’s Office, but charges were not filed. But District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said with the additional reports of misconduct, his office could reopen a new criminal investigation.

Following his firing, two other women who encountered Granucci on the job claimed he acted inappropriately, according to the report. In 2017, he initiated a sexual relationship lasting several months with a woman who he met while trying to serve an arrest warrant for her son.

Two years earlier, Granucci also solicited a sexual relationship from a woman he met while she was being arrested for a warrant. He lied and said he was helping her with her case and attempted to use that as leverage, but was refused, according to the report.

Investigators reviewing the 2018 misconduct complaint found he lied to administrators about both of the earlier reports.

Granucci was placed on administrative leave after the March complaint was received and he was fired Friday, June 29. He was also informed he would be fired again if he got his job back through an appeal, according to the report.

In 2003, Granucci was involved in a fatal shooting of a suspect, but charges were not filed. In 2011, he was honored by the Burlingame City Council for helping to save a man choking at a restaurant.

For his part, Matteucci said his department will continue to comply with the enhanced transparency obligations, but would not speak to specific allegations.

“We will respond to all appropriate requests but will not have further comment on the merits of these cases,” he said.

Gov. Jerry Brown signs landmark laws that unwind decades of secrecy surrounding police misconduct, use of force

Gov. Jerry Brown signs landmark laws that unwind decades of secrecy surrounding police misconduct, use of force
Orange County Sheriff’s deputies prepare for a Donald Trump rally in 2016 near the Anaheim Convention Center. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Gov. Jerry Brown ushered in a new era of transparency in California law enforcement on Sunday, signing two new laws that for the first time give the public access to internal police investigations and video footage of shootings by police officers and other serious incidents.

The measures begin to undo decades of laws and court decisions that had made California the nation’s most secretive state for police records.

“With Governor Brown’s signature, California is finally joining other states in granting access to the investigatory records on officer conduct that the public truly has a right to know,” said Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), the author of one of the measures, Senate Bill 1421, in a statement.

Skinner’s bill allows the public to view investigations of officer shootings and other major uses of force, along with confirmed cases of sexual assault and lying while on duty.

The availability of these records will allow the public to press California police departments and elected officials in ways not possible before, said Peter Bibring, director of police practices at the American Civil Liberties Union of California, which was a principal supporter of both bills.

“People have seen there are systematic problems and the police aren’t being held accountable — or at least the public isn’t aware of it because it’s secret,” Bibring said. “That’s something the public is not willing to ignore.”

Legal experts also say SB 1421 could have a significant effect on the state’s justice system by allowing broader access to records that could bear on the credibility of a police witness who has a history of discipline for dishonesty or other significant misconduct.

California is the only state in which even prosecutors cannot directly obtain officer personnel files. Under the current system, prosecutors and criminal defendants must navigate a labyrinthine process in court to glean information from those files. The procedure, which requires filing a so-called Pitchess motion, often yields only the name and contact information of a complainant against an officer.

A recent Times investigation into secrecy surrounding law enforcement discipline found that past misconduct by police witnesses, whether alleged or proven, routinely is kept hidden in court as a result of California’s confidentiality laws.

The new law opens up interview transcripts, evidence and full investigatory reports to the public, prosecutors and defense attorneys alike.

“This is revolutionary,” said San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi. “It would unveil what we have been wanting for a long time.”

Lara Bazelon, a professor at the University of San Francisco School of Law, said the measure could expose officer misconduct that was long withheld from defendants and could lead to numerous convictions being dismissed.

“We are going to see a lot of skeletons falling out of the closets dating back years, if not decades. That means people who were convicted unjustly and unfairly will finally get a chance to be heard,” Bazelon said.

Contra Costa County prosecutors tossed 19 convictions in 2016 and 2017 after a police lieutenant revealed to a judge that files showing internal investigations into two officers had not been disclosed in criminal cases featuring the officers.

California’s rules prohibiting the public release of law enforcement records date back four decades. At the time, police unions and other law enforcement officials were complaining that criminal defense attorneys had flooded departments with requests for complaints against officers. Before the 1978 law was passed, the Los Angeles Police Department shredded four tons of prior complaints against officers that hadn’t resulted in a finding of wrongdoing.

In previous years, law enforcement labor groups waged aggressive campaigns to successfully shut down attempts to loosen the state’s police confidentiality laws.

Police unions opposed SB 1421 as well. Brian Marvel, the head of the Peace Officers Research Assn. of California — the state’s largest law enforcement labor organization — said he worried the new disclosure rules would put officers at risk. Earlier this year, protesters angry over the killing of Stephon Clark, an unarmed black man in Sacramento, gathered at the wedding of a police officer after identifying him as one of the officers who shot Clark, and Marvel said releasing more information about officers could lead to more confrontations that could turn violent.

“There would be a greater potential for officers and their families being harmed by having all of their information being put out publicly,” Marvel said.

Labor officials had used similar arguments in the past to defeat transparency proposals. But Marvel said their position wasn’t as effective this year because public opinion has shifted against officers, pressuring lawmakers to act differently. Legislators and civil rights activists similarly have cited the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and increased scrutiny on police killings of civilians as reasons why SB 1421 passed when prior attempts at changing the transparency laws failed.

Brown signed the original 1978 police confidentiality law during his first term in office. He did not issue a statement after signing the bill, and a spokesman declined to comment on the decision.

Besides the open records law, Brown signed a second measure, Assembly Bill 748, requiring departments statewide to release body-worn camera and other video and audio recordings of officer shootings and serious uses of force within 45 days unless doing so would interfere with an ongoing investigation.

This law, modeled after a new LAPD policy on releasing body-camera video, makes California’s rules for releasing footage some of the most transparent in the country, according to research by Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

The body-camera law also breaks a long stalemate in the Legislature over setting statewide rules on releasing the police recordings. Multiple proposals in recent years either to make the videos public or limit access had failed before AB 748.

“Public access to body camera footage is necessary to boost confidence and rebuild trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve,” said Assemblyman Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), the bill’s author, in a statement.

The new transparency laws could spur more efforts to increase public access to policing records in the state. Marvel, the police union leader, said he’d like to release body-camera footage of day-to-day interactions officers have with community members, such as typical traffic stops, so that the public has a better sense of what regular policing is like.

“If the only thing we’re releasing is negative contacts with people, then that becomes the narrative,” Marvel said.

The new open records law takes effect Jan. 1. The body-camera law won’t be implemented until July 1 to give police departments more time to update their policies on disclosure.

5:45 p.m: This article was updated with comments from the bills’ authors and additional information about the governor’s decision.

This article was originally published at 5:25 p.m.

 

“Gov. Jerry Brown signs landmark laws that unwind decades of secrecy surrounding police misconduct, use of force”, https://www.latimes.com/politics/la-pol-ca-police-misconduct-rules-changed-20180930-story.html

Here’s how California became the most secretive state on police misconduct

Aug 15, 2018 | 3:00 AM| Sacramento

Here's how California became the most secretive state on police misconduct
Former state Sen. Gloria Romero introduced a bill more than a decade ago that would have allowed the public to access police discipline hearings and some records. It was defeated in the face of fierce opposition from police unions. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

In the 1970s, Los Angeles police officers were furious that past complaints against them increasingly were making their way into court cases.

So LAPD officials did something radical: They took more than four tons of personnel records dating to the 1940s and shredded them.

That decision resulted in the dismissal of more than 100 criminal cases involving officers accused of wrongdoing whose records had been purged, sparking public outrage.

The Legislature responded by passing a law that ensured officer discipline records would be preserved — but also made it nearly impossible for anyone to learn about them. The action, driven by police unions, began a decades-long process that has made California the strictest state in the nation when it comes to protecting police confidentiality.

That could change in the next few weeks, with lawmakers in Sacramento considering a landmark effort to increase disclosure.

Repeated efforts to open access to misconduct records have run into aggressive opposition from the unions, one of the most powerful political forces in the Capitol and city halls around the state. Lawmakers who championed transparency faced threats of union opposition at election time.

Police unions repeatedly have argued that California’s confidentiality rules protect officer safety and privacy — and prevent cops’ names from being dragged through the mud.

But this year, a group of California legislators is confronting police unions in ways once unthinkable. They argue the organizations are out of touch with public sentiment over how officers use force and interact with communities of color. The shift comes amid the backdrop of the Black Lives Matter and criminal justice reform movements.

“It’s hard to build trust … when police keep secret how they respond to killing members of the public and hide serious misconduct,” said Peter Bibring, director of police practices at the American Civil Liberties Union of California.

The latest proposal to make some misconduct records public faces a key decision in the Legislature this week. While passage is far from assured, some union leaders privately are conceding that a measure of disclosure might be inevitable.

Robert Harris, a director for the union that represents rank-and-file LAPD officers, said high-profile videos capturing police using force — and the protests that followed — have put his side on the defensive.

“We’re kind of at the table trying to work with them, not because of the validity of their arguments but because we’re watching this movement create some hostility in our communities,” Harris said. “The profession of law enforcement is under siege.”

(Los Angeles Times)

No other state has locked away citizen complaints and internal investigation files like California.

Records of misconduct that results in suspensions and other significant discipline are public in 21 states. Only California, Delaware and New York have specially enshrined confidentiality laws that single out police disciplinary files. California is alone in denying prosecutors direct access to the records.

A Times investigation found that past misconduct, whether alleged or proven, routinely is kept hidden in court as a result of California’s police privacy laws.

The road to secrecy began in 1974, when the California Supreme Court ruled that defendants had a right to know about complaints that had been lodged against officers testifying in their cases. Defense attorneys started asking for information that might cast doubt on officers’ testimony.

It was during the barrage of requests that the LAPD destroyed complaints dating to 1949 that hadn’t resulted in a finding of wrongdoing. The leader of the Peace Officers Research Assn. of California, or PORAC — the state’s largest law enforcement labor organization — complained that criminal defendants could now “embark on fishing expeditions into peace officers’ personnel files.”

First-term Gov. Jerry Brown, left, appears with California Atty. Gen. Evelle Younger on NBC's "Meet The Press" in 1978. Younger was the principal backer of the police confidentiality bill that Brown signed into law the same year.
First-term Gov. Jerry Brown, left, appears with California Atty. Gen. Evelle Younger on NBC’s “Meet The Press” in 1978. Younger was the principal backer of the police confidentiality bill that Brown signed into law the same year. (Associated Press)

In 1978, state Atty. Gen. Evelle Younger sponsored the legislation that required departments to keep misconduct records but also expressly blocked public access and made it much more difficult to view them in criminal court.

Under the bill, defendants would have to persuade a judge to examine an officer’s confidential file, in private, and decide if there was relevant information to disclose.

The Legislature passed the measure unanimously, sending it to Gov. Jerry Brown, then in his first term, who signed it.

Later that year, after Brown won reelection, his chief of staff credited law enforcement as one of most significant endorsements that led to his victory.

After the law took effect, a slice of police misconduct records remained available to the public.

In Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco and other major cities, civil service commissions or police review boards considered officer discipline issues in open hearings. In 2006, the California Supreme Court ruled that the confidentiality law also applied to those hearings.

As a state senator, Gloria Romero repeatedly tried to pass legislation to loosen restrictions on police disciplinary records but was stymied by police unions. "It's a pack. Like wolves coming at you," she said.
As a state senator, Gloria Romero repeatedly tried to pass legislation to loosen restrictions on police disciplinary records but was stymied by police unions. “It’s a pack. Like wolves coming at you,” she said. (Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

That prompted Sen. Gloria Romero, a Democrat from Los Angeles, to introduce a bill to reopen disciplinary hearings and make some police records directly available to the public.

Law enforcement unions fiercely opposed what they described in letters to lawmakers as an attempt to undermine their “sacred” right to privacy.

John Stites, a union leader from Southern California, warned in an email to a lobbyist that if the bill passed, police would try to defeat a ballot measure seeking to extend the time some legislators could remain in office.

“There is no compromise on this. Ensure it be understood that this will only be the beginning,” Stites wrote in the message, which quickly made its way to lawmakers.

At a hearing for Romero’s bill in the Assembly Public Safety Committee, law enforcement officials filed into the committee room’s front rows — seats typically reserved for legislators and their staffs. So many police officers and lobbyists stood to express their opposition that the line extended out the door.

Ron Cottingham, then head of the law enforcement union PORAC, told the committee that Romero’s proposal was “one of the most insidious and dangerous bills we’ve seen come along in many years and maybe decades in Sacramento.”

The following year, Romero tried and failed again.

She said in a recent interview that the experience showed her why police unions are so feared in the Capitol.

“It’s a pack. Like wolves coming at you,” Romero said. “Other [legislators] see it, and you’re basically like meat thrown to the lions.”

Mark Leno, left, talks with Lou Correa at the Capitol when both men served in the state Senate. Leno twice proposed police transparency bills that failed when police unions opposed them.
Mark Leno, left, talks with Lou Correa at the Capitol when both men served in the state Senate. Leno twice proposed police transparency bills that failed when police unions opposed them. (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

Around the time of Romero’s first bill, Assemblyman Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) introduced a similar proposal. It failed to win enough support to merit even a committee vote.

A year later, in 2008, Leno was running for the state Senate when opponents set up a political action committee called Protect Our Kids that ran ads attacking his votes to cut education spending. San Francisco’s police union, which was critical of Leno’s unsuccessful bill, was one of its top donors.

The lawmaker, who is openly gay, said he considered the committee’s name to be a clear reference to homophobic stereotypes about gay men as child predators.

“That’s how they play,” Leno said. “You come after us, we’ll come after you.”

San Francisco police labor officials did not return calls for comment. At the time, a union leader told reporters they were upset about Leno’s votes on public safety and education issues.

Leno won the election but waited until his final year in the Senate before introducing a new police transparency bill in 2016.

The timing followed the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and the 2014 killing of Michael Brown, a black teenager shot by a white officer in Ferguson, Mo.

Even so, the bill quickly died in a Senate fiscal committee.

“It was just too hot,” Leno said.

State Sen. Holly J. Mitchell at the Ronald Reagan State Building in Los Angeles. Mitchell told lobbyists for police unions this year that they were out of touch with public sentiment about law enforcement.
State Sen. Holly J. Mitchell at the Ronald Reagan State Building in Los Angeles. Mitchell told lobbyists for police unions this year that they were out of touch with public sentiment about law enforcement. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Two years later, a hearing on the latest disclosure bill showed how far the tone surrounding police issues has changed in the Capitol.

Sen. Holly J. Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) told union lobbyists in April that they were out of touch with how communities perceived officers. No longer, she said, would the unions always get their way.

“Those days are over,” Mitchell said.

Her warning came less than a month after protests erupted near the Capitol in the wake of the fatal shooting of Stephon Clark, an unarmed black man, by Sacramento police.

Senate Bill 1421 would open records from investigations of officer shootings and other major force incidents, along with confirmed cases of sexual assault and lying while on duty. The bill must clear an Assembly fiscal committee this week en route to passage in the Legislature by the end of August, when lawmakers break for the year.

Its author, Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), has argued lawmakers must heed calls from black and Latino residents who want to know what happens to officers they accuse of misbehavior.

Police unions complain the measure would increase government costs and prompt a flood of court filings by inmates seeking release once a law enforcement witness’ past dishonesty is revealed. Knowing internal investigations will be disclosed, they say, also could lead some officers to hesitate during violent confrontations, endangering their lives.

“It has unintended consequences that are extreme and will hurt the public,” Ed Fishman, an attorney with PORAC, said at the April hearing.

Unlike in years past, the unions say they’re willing to negotiate.

Brian Marvel, current president of PORAC, said he could see the state’s rules changing in cases in which officers were found to have committed serious misconduct. “I’m not opposed to opening records,” he said.

As public scrutiny of police conduct has increased, unions also have experienced setbacks at the ballot box. In recent years, statewide voters approved several justice reform measures despite law enforcement opposition, including initiatives to unwind the state’s strict three-strikes sentencing law and reduce punishments for low-level thefts and drug offenses.

Still, the law enforcement lobby remains highly influential and the bill’s future uncertain.

Endorsements from police groups still are highly coveted by lawmakers fearful of opponents labeling them as soft on crime. Over the last decade, those unions have contributed more than $145 million to statewide ballot measures as well as legislative, gubernatorial and other statewide races, according to a Times analysis of campaign finance data. They’ve spent an additional $18 million on lobbying and other efforts to influence policy at the Capitol.

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher (D-San Diego), who worked closely with police unions as a labor leader before being elected in 2013, heads the fiscal committee that will consider the bill this week.

Gonzalez Fletcher said she strongly supports protecting officers’ privacy. But she agrees that the conversation surrounding policing issues has changed.

In her district, which encompasses southern San Diego and stretches to the Mexican border, she’s noticed more complaints from Latino residents that police are treating them unfairly.

“Transparency is necessary,” Gonzalez Fletcher said. “We have to do something in order for communities like mine to gain trust in police again.”

Aug 15, 2018, Los Angeles Times, “Here’s how California became the most secretive state on police misconduct”, https://www.latimes.com/politics/la-me-california-police-discipline-secret-20180815-story.html

 

California is on the verge of three important steps toward police accountability

Jun 01, 2018 | 4:10 AM

California is on the verge of three important steps toward police accountability
Shown is the scene of an officer-involved shooting in Pacoima. (Los Angeles Times)

Californians have lost much of their former ability to monitor the performance of police officers and agencies, due in large part to a series of unfavorable court rulings and to the timidity of elected leaders who repeatedly bowed to pressure from law enforcement labor unions. The Legislature now has taken up a modest yet valuable bill that would allow the public to learn which officers fired their weapons, used other serious force or lied about their actions. Senate Bill 1421 has cleared the Senate and deserves Assembly approval.

Access to such information is essential — and is readily available to the public in one form or another in more than half the states. But not in this one. Without such data, it is nearly impossible to learn which officers account for disproportionate injuries, deaths and public liability. Nor is it possible to determine whether agencies operate effective internal investigations and unbiased disciplinary systems. That leaves police departments shockingly free of real oversight from the public they serve.

Officers contend that their personnel files are their own business and should be as shielded from outside scrutiny as those of teachers, sanitation workers and any other public employees. And officers do indeed deserve a measure of privacy, as do the rest of us.

Unlike teachers and sanitation workers, though, law enforcement officers take up badges and weapons and are uniquely granted the authority to arrest or even kill in the name of the law. In return, some modicum of access to police records is required to prevent abuse of that enormous power.

The bill, authored by Democrat Nancy Skinner of Berkeley, is so measured that the state’s district attorneys have dropped their opposition. It would make public the currently confidential reports that police departments prepare on a variety of incidents involving officers, including discharging a firearm or using a Taser or other electroshock weapon, striking a person on the head or neck or taking any action that results in serious injury or death.

Some modicum of access to police records is required to prevent abuse of [their] enormous power.


 

Access also would be granted to records that show an officer sexually assaulted a member of the public, or lied or falsified evidence in the course of a police investigation or criminal prosecution.

Today, these sorts of records are available almost exclusively to defendants in criminal cases — in order to help them establish that the officers involved in their prosecution have a history of misconduct.

The Skinner bill would allow any member of the public to seek this information by filing a Public Records Act request.

In addition to Skinner’s bill, lawmakers should send Gov. Jerry Brown two other worthy bills dealing with public disclosure of police matters, including surveillance technologies such as license plate readers and drones.

Under SB 1186 by San Mateo Democrat Jerry Hill, which also recently passed out of the Senate, police departments wouldn’t be able to use drones or other surveillance technology without a city council, police commission or other public body first adopting a deployment policy at an open meeting at which the public has an opportunity to weigh in.

Police would still be able to snoop, and they would still be able to spend public money to do so. But they at least would be required to disclose how they’re doing it. Without safeguards and disclosure, police power is too intrusive and is insufficiently balanced by accountability to the public.

Even with the disclosure that Hill proposes, which is similar to the process used by the Los Angeles Police Commission in its drone program, some opponents of the bill argue that any surveillance is abusive. But, of course, the bill does not require police surveillance; it merely attempts to keep it from being excessively secret.

Assembly Bill 3131 by Democratic Assemblymen Todd Gloria of San Diego and David Chiu of San Francisco would require a similar public process before a police agency could acquire surplus military equipment. That move would restore in California an approach that was put in place nationwide by the Obama administration but then was rescinded by President Trump. Currently, police chiefs (even school police) can accept U.S. military equipment, such as grenade launchers, without requiring any training or deployment plan. As a result, too many routine police operations, such as delivering search warrants or controlling crowds, have become virtual military exercises in which police use equipment and tactics more suited to occupying armies than to peace officers.

None of the three bills would prevent police from doing their work, but would merely ensure that they do it openly. They are all important adjustments in the relationship between those employed to protect the public, and the public itself.

Jun 01, 2018, LA Times, “California is on the verge of three important steps toward police accountability”, https://www.latimes.com/opinion/editorials/la-ed-police-bills-20180601-story.html

Advocates Applaud Advancement of Bill to Open Police Misconduct Records in California

May 25, 2018, Daisy Vieyra,