California Cops Kill Transparency in SB 1986
June 27, 2016 (Fault Lines) — A California bill to increase transparency and accountability from the state’s police officers died in committee earlier this month. The opposition to Senate Bill 1286, introduced by Senator Mark Leno, by California police agencies was overwhelming. From the police chiefs association to the highway patrol to correctional officers and district attorneys, they did not want this bill to move forward.
The bill would have opened up police department findings in cases of excessive force, sexual assault, racial profiling, falsifying reports and details of officer involved shootings.
California is just one of three states in the country where the public is not entitled to any information about police discipline records. Currently there is only one mechanism for obtaining those records; it’s called a “Pitchess Motion.” This is a motion filed by an attorney in a criminal case when it is alleged that the arresting officers engaged in some sort of misconduct and there is reason to believe that the officers engaged in similar misconduct in other cases that would materially affect the current case.
The judge overseeing the case, after a finding that there is “good cause” for the documents to be released, will hold a private hearing to determine if it is pertinent, and what information contained in the personnel file should be disclosed.
Great! California already has a way to get information on dirty cops, no need for a new law right?
There is a good chance that the judge is a former prosecutor who will decide that there’s nothing to see, or that only one or two small tidbits are pertinent; those being names and addresses of other people who made complaints against an officer in the past. Or there may be nothing to see anyway because police agencies destroy as much evidence of their criminal wrongdoing as they possibly can, at all times.
California cops enjoy a CIA-like veil of secrecy, and SB 1986 would have been a major change. This is why police opposed it with the vigor usually reserved for free donut day. They have a lot to hide. They do not want taxpayers to know how many of their cops are wife beaters, drunks, liars, bad drivers, really bad drivers, killers, rapists and violent assailants. It would tarnish their reputation as heroes.
They want the general public to believe that the “vast majority” of cops are brave, honest defenders of our liberties, and that the problem cops are just a “few bad apples.”
What is certain is that the vast majority of cops in California just stood up (with their unions and associations) killing a bill that would have gone a long way towards making folks feel like the cops have nothing to hide. Right now folks don’t.
But that doesn’t bother Mike Durant President of PORAC (Police Officers Research Association), who warned that passage of this bill would have resulted in “retaliation” against police, apparently because cops wrote the book on that. Many honest police officers understand it all too well as this is when the “vast majority” of cops teach the few good apples what’s what.
In an interview with NPR, Senator Leno, who is now termed out of office and unable to reintroduce the bill, said that it is now up to the people of California to take the issue to the voters using the ballot measure system requiring nearly seven hundred thousand signatures of registered California voters.
What are you waiting for? Get out there, there’s a spot right out in front of your local Trader Joes waiting for you signature gatherers.