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 @ 9:56am

    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.

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