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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  1. 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".

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