New Bill Aims To Pierce The Darkness Surrounding California Police Officers' Disciplinary Records

from the long-awaited-correction-to-the-[permanent]-record dept

Cops in California have literally unbelievable protections. To ensure the "privacy" of government employees sworn to serve the public, the Cali legislature has kowtowed to state police unions to make disciplinary records all but impossible to obtain… by anyone.

This has led to the expected results. Professional liars in cop uniforms offer unimpeached testimony filled with more lies as defense lawyers stand helplessly by, screwed out of offering effective counsel by state law. The law is so restrictive prosecutors are often unable to obtain these files. In the unlikely event a cop is being prosecuted, past misdeeds are hidden under a heavy layer of legislated opacity, hindering effectiveness on the other side.

Sure, if you're the victim of police violence, your past is an open book. The cops will dump everything they have on you, from the shoplifting citation two decades ago to every charge ever brought (but ultimately dropped or dismissed) against you in your lifetime to smear your reputation and burnish their own. But if the court would be better served knowing the witness on the stand is an inveterate liar with a history of misconduct, justice will not only go blind but underserved under state law.

This bill aims to change that.

There is currently a bill before the California Legislature that would ease the burden for the prosecutors and the public to know whether the officers in their communities are trustworthy. SB1421 would require police departments to release information about, inter alia, sustained findings of dishonesty in the course of criminal cases and other instances of police misconduct. This bill would also require police departments to release information about serious uses of force, including officer-involved shootings, to increase transparency.

As the article notes, cops -- especially the good ones -- should welcome this move towards transparency.

[C]urrent California law protects the worst officers by hiding their identities from the public and makes them indistinguishable from the bulk of the officers who do their jobs faithfully in accordance with the Constitution.

But they won't. Or, at the very least, their support will be overridden by all the other cops: the mediocre, the bad, the repugnant, and the morally and criminally corrupt. These are officers and former officers currently holding prominent positions in the state's unions, and police unions are universally opposed to transparency, accountability, or minor policy changes that might make policing better.

This bill could change things but it faces the same opposition that managed to talk the legislature into turning police officers into an extremely protected class. It's a welcome effort, but has little chance of survival. Maybe the tide has turned. Maybe this time police unions will be told to stop standing in the way of rebuilding California communities' trust in the officers and agencies policing their neighborhoods.

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Filed Under: california, disciplinary records, police, transparency

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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 17 Aug 2018 @ 3:42am

    Fair's fair

    I mean I'm sure no prosecutor, were they provided with a demonstrable record that a non-cop witness had been found to have lied in court(or otherwise acted in a manner that would bring their character in question) before would even think of bringing that up in the current trial, and as such it's only fair that police called to the witness stand would be given the same benefit.

    I mean really, just because a cop might have lied under oath before that doesn't mean they have a higher than zero chance of lying again, and really, isn't just just water under the bridge, completely irrelevant to the trustworthiness of their statements later on?

    Contrary to what the proposed law would have you believe it's obvious that a perpetual clean slate with nary a mention of the past is the only fair way to handle it, and as the general public is already given this treatment in court, so too should police called to the stand.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Nemo, 17 Aug 2018 @ 9:32am

      Re: Fair's fair

      If fair actually /is/ fair, why should the police enjoy the benefit of the /very/ common jury belief that police testimony is more accurate and honest than the average non-police witness?

      And come to that, why should the police be allowed to enjoy their special right of enhanced immunity from the repercussions of bearing false witness against their neighbors? Because not only do they enjoy a generalized reluctance of prosecutors to prosecuting police for perjury, plus the court-created protections of Qualified Immunity, /plus/ contractual and legislative laws and policies which keep all misconduct investigation materials secret (when they are reviewed at all), PLUS the backing of a system of unions hell-bent on protecting all police from any threats at all, /especially/ the threat of misconduct evidence being revealed to the public; /multiplied/ by all the times PDs have issued statements besmirching the accused "civilian" or the "civilian" accusing a cop of misconduct with any bit of negative public information they can find, all the way (IIRC) down to jaywalking, if that's all the "record" of "criminal activity" they can find while extolling the "virtues" of the officers involved.

      Yeah, when /I/ can have all the benefits and protections granted to protect police when they testify, then /maybe/ fair will be fair.

      Until such time, however, the standards applied to cops bear more relation to "unfair's fair" than anything approaching the proposed reasoning of "fair's fair", WRT police accountability.

      I'm not sure how fairness has anything at all to do with the police vs. those they contemptuously term "civilians" when discussing ordinary citizens. The deck is already lavishly stacked in favor of the police, but it's "fair" to give them protections that the public doesn't actually have (a defense witness can certainly be impeached by citing past instances of perjury, and so could officers - if anyone was allowed to know what the PDs did when they were informed of an officer lying on the stand (prosecutors generally want this information so they don't put witnesses on the stand who are subject to potential "gotcha" revelations, but the police, as seen here resist even that much accountability)), when officers are already surrounded by a nearly impenetrable wall of protections.

      Take the kid in Independence, MO. Bit of a rarity, that the officer actually faced charges and was convicted, but he was not charged with killing the kid (Probably because he was unexpectedly revived, albeit in a horribly disabled state) by zapping him 20-odd times in the chest with a "non-lethal" Taser (Taser's now hiding behind the name Axon, BTW), because he was too dumb to realize that electric jolts to the chest area can affect the heart's beating.

      Nope, he was convicted of mishandling the kid's corpse, adding to the extent of the injuries suffered from the tasing and oxygen deprivation.

      TL; DR: The current default in the context of how the law treats police vs the public, both in the courtroom and out, is "unfair's fair". Adding to that wall of protects is like saying "'unfair's fair' isn't 'fair' enough, so let's make thing's even /more/ unfair, because 'fair's fair'.", such as criminalizing "hate speech" directed towards the police.

      You can beat the rap, but you can't beat the ride and that rap will probably haunt you, if you run afoul of them again, even if you were 100% innocent, while the police face no such risk. That's what is currently "fair".

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Stephen T. Stone (profile), 17 Aug 2018 @ 5:39am

    If they have nothing to fear from their records being exposed, they should not need to hide them.


    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Sayonara Felicia-San (profile), 18 Aug 2018 @ 12:21pm


      pfffft. this is the LAPD we are talking about here.

      In any event nobody is going to allow this, they have a proud history of covering up the crimes of powerful people, and nobody is going to allow that gravy train to end.

      Just try to getting access to police records, filing a freedom of information request, filing a complaint against an officer, anything, just try it for yourself, and you will quickly realize the LAPD won't cooperate with any transparency legislation or judges ruling.

      What needs to happen is that US government needs to step in, and take federal control of the police force.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Aug 2018 @ 5:42am

    In other words

    Cops in California seem to enjoy the rights that everyone used to have. The ability to defend themselves in court and to be seen as a suspect and not a guilty perpetrator. It would be really amazing if the law enforcement aspect of all court cases could be removed. If prosecutors don't know if they are prosecuting or defending a cop, they won't know which way to imbalance the scales of justice.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Nemo, 17 Aug 2018 @ 9:56am

      Re: In other words

      "If prosecutors don't know if they are prosecuting or defending a cop" is rather difficult to pull off in instances of misconduct.

      Just remember that, when the police start going on about keeping themselves "safe", that includes protecting the worst of the worst from anyone even /finding out/ that a dirty cop's dirty.

      "By their fruits, ye shall know them", and the fruits of police safety-seeking includes efforts to keep all misconduct findings and evidence secret from anyone outside the PD/union.

      They've been doing that crap for so long, they have gotten blase' about it, too. Police routinely promise "transparency" when one of their own is suspected of misconduct (ever noticed that accused "civilians" are "suspects", while their own are almost always "accused officers"?), only to follow up with months, and possibly years of stonewalling via "due to our ongoing investigation"?

      More like "we won't answer until the media stops paying attention, then we will "transparently" release our finding, but little else".

      If a police spokesperson promises "transparency" in a case that catches your attention, keep an eye on it, and track how many times comment is declined vs information given out. Then make a public records request to see what materials from the investigation are open to public review.

      Also keep in mind that Chicago and its PD fought for over a year to keep the video evidence that every cop who reported on the shooting* lied about it, and in the same way, since LaQuan McDonald never even turned in the direction of the police, let alone "charged" any of them.

      *If there's an officer who filed a rogue, accurate report, I haven't heard of it. I also haven't heard that any of the officers who lied on government forms to protect a murderer in their ranks - one they knew had done so - have faced any accountability at all. Considering that the similarity of the lies would at least imply a conspiracy, I find the lack of such charges to be more than a little compelling.

      Police lie because they can, because even when they are caught in major lies, the risk of repercussions is practically nonexistent.

      The term "testilying" exists for a reason.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Aug 2018 @ 5:58am

    We can always go back to the days of U.S. Marshal Reuben J. "Rooster" Cogburn of surrender and we will give you a proper trial, quick hanging, and a decent burial. Much simpler that way.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 17 Aug 2018 @ 11:57am

    Got a match?

    Lets see how transparent..

    IF they wrote anything down..
    IF it is, Where is it, and how easy to Burn..
    Got a house, its going to get burnt.
    If the data is on a computer, the ODDS SAY???
    it will be dead by daylight..
    Got a DVD? It wont be in your collection very long.
    GOT COPIES?? (AS EVERYONE SHOULD) They will be buried for
    USE later (dont go into politics) or the HOLDERS MAY
    disappear.. Or Become very rich..

    HOW much would you pay to erase your past?? Starting price $1000 per incident.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      ECA (profile), 17 Aug 2018 @ 3:55pm

      Re: Got a match?

      WHAT would be really amazing....

      IS IF'
      the Corps posted the correct speeds..
      WOULD meet or BEAT the posted speeds..and could keep them up that high at least 90% of the time..

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 17 Aug 2018 @ 1:08pm

    "the bulk of the officers who do their jobs faithfully"

    I think a concern about the bill may be that it will dispell this myth. Rather it might reveal that the officers who do their job faithfully in accordance with the Constitution are far from the bulk, or even the majority.

    The law enforcement officers I have heard from first hand have given me the impression that clean by-the-book officers are the rare exception, not the rule.

    Right now, we suspect the precincts are corrupt to the core. Transparency may prove it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Sayonara Felicia-San (profile), 18 Aug 2018 @ 12:18pm

      Re: "the bulk of the officers who do their jobs faithfully"

      No they don't. You have any proof of this? No? Then get lost.

      LAPD is one of the, if not the most, corrupt pile of dirt bags in the US.

      If you have evidence against this relatively well known fact, then please present it. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Uriel-238 (profile), 18 Aug 2018 @ 6:22pm

        "No, they don't"

        No they don't. You have any proof of this? No? Then get lost.

        Given nothing of what I said in my post can be rendered down to they do, Sayonara Felicia-San, I am sure you are responding to something other than what I wrote.

        Whatever it was I didn't say seems to have upset you profoundly, too

        Perhaps you should express your position plainly, without ambiguity or pronouns. I think I may agree with you, or at least not disagree. But then I could respond affirmative or not.

        I cannot speak for how the LAPD rates, corruption-wise compared to the NYPD, Oakland Police Department or Chicago Police Department, each of which are recurring figures on TechDirt, regarding reports of corruption or gross misconduct. Were corruption a race, they might give the LAPD a run for its money.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Sayonara Felicia-San (profile), 20 Aug 2018 @ 10:39am

          Re: "No, they don't"

          "I cannot speak for how the LAPD rates..."

          If self identify as ignorant, then perhaps you should abstain from commenting at all.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Wnt, 17 Aug 2018 @ 4:28pm

    I do sort of understand about the police unions being unnerved, since when people get your private data, they get obnoxious. For example, after this story my first reaction was (for the lulz) to pull out the list of 26 female officers who had gotten an "emblem of recognition - appearance". Yeah, silly ... people are gonna do silly stuff with data. There is something of an argument to be made that if you have a union rep you don't want your employer putting your name on a site with a bunch of "violations" whose proof is that "somebody said so". At the same time though -- people who are charged with crimes wrongly absolutely do have a right to defend themselves. Figuring out exactly what policy is right in this case is a more demanding test of privacy and free speech policy than most. Rise to the challenge.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    Sayonara Felicia-San (profile), 18 Aug 2018 @ 12:16pm

    The LAPD is the most corrupt police force in the United States.

    I've told YOU PEOPLE this numerous times, but naturally your cognitive dissonance keeps your feeble minds from registering the information.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Christenson, 18 Aug 2018 @ 5:00pm

      Re: The LAPD is the most corrupt police force in the United States.

      That LAPD is seriously corrupt, no one except Ajit Paj doubts this, and he is a gaslighter.

      We need a good definition for “most corrupt”, however, to prove it’s them and not some other awful department, like say Chicago or New York or Henderson, Nevada. And where do you place FBI, CBP, ICE, DEA, and so on?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Nemo, 19 Aug 2018 @ 11:34am

      Re: The LAPD is the most corrupt police force in the United States.

      Ok, I'll say it for you: The LAPD is the "most" corrupt PD in the nation.

      Does saying you're right move me from "feeble-minded" to "intelligent", and how does agreeing with you alter my intelligence level?

      But now that I have supported your conclusion, would you agree that answering the question of which PD is the "worst of the worst" isn't particularly meaningful or helpful, when it comes to addressing police misconduct and reform?

      Especially since, as the article notes, it's devilishly difficult to get firm data about the subject from police organizations. Without that, declaring the "worst PD" cannot come from data, only subjective opinion.

      In short, I can't prove that your opinion regarding the LAPD is wrong, because the data needed for comparison isn't there.

      Wouldn't you like it, though, if the data needed to prove your opinion became available somehow, and your opinion could be proven to be factually supported?

      Or do you prefer that the data stay hidden, so that your opinion /can't/ be proven wrong?

      Careful how you answer that, because the answer you choose will reflect your intelligence far more accurately than the bit about those not agreeing with your opinion being feeble-minded reflects theirs.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Sayonara Felicia-San (profile), 20 Aug 2018 @ 10:49am

        Re: Re: The LAPD is the most corrupt police force in the United States.

        I started reading your reply, but it quickly became literally a painfully claustrophobic cluttered soliloquy.

        A sad attempt at proving how adept you personally are at creating a complicating literary gray goo, from seemingly simple components.

        Here is my attempt at appeasing your verbal terrorism:

        1. Yes the LAPD should be forced to turn over all records. Unfortunately there is no system in place, in California to enforce such an order.

        2. There need to be consequences for failure to quickly turn over records. Since there is no process in place to punish the LAPD, the federal government should step in, obtain the records and release them to the public. Also the LAPD leadership should be put in prison for failure to comply with civilian / judicial orders and laws.

        3. No. An absence of data does not preclude forming theoretical conclusions based on observational data as well as human behavioral data which is universal.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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