California AG Says Journalist Broke The Law By Obtaining A List Of Convicted Officers Via A Public Records Request

from the you-crafty-bastards-used-the-law-to-harm-law-enforcement! dept

California journalists legally obtained a document no law enforcement agency wants them to have. Naturally, the state's best friend to bad cops, Attorney General Xavier Becerra, is claiming it's illegal for these journalists to possess a document handed to them in response to a public records request.

Thousands of California law enforcement officers have been convicted of a crime in the past decade, according to records released by a public agency that sets standards for officers in the Golden State.

The revelations are alarming, but the state’s top cop says Californians don’t have a right to see them. In fact, Attorney General Xavier Becerra warned two Berkeley-based reporters that simply possessing this never-before-publicly-released list of convicted cops is a violation of the law.

The UC Berkeley journalists asked for police misconduct documents from the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training -- taking advantage of the state's new law that opens access to these long-hidden files -- and ended up with the entire list of law enforcement officers who have been convicted of crimes.

This list of names is very definitely of public interest. The journalists are vetting the list to ensure they haven't misidentified any of the 12,000 officers on the list and have not published it in full. Still, they're being told by the man at the top of the law enforcement food chain they've broken the law simply by taking possession of a document handed to them by a state agency. He has ordered the documents destroyed. Good luck with enforcing that. If anything, AG Becerra's incursions on the First Amendment will help ensure the information is published once it's been vetted.

What's included in the list of convicted officers is disturbing. I guess we should all be relieved these acts actually resulted in convictions. The long list of criminal acts includes possession of child porn, numerous acts of domestic violence, embezzlement, driving while intoxicated, and -- in one case -- impersonating an officer to purchase restricted weapons and ammo shortly after the officer lost his job.

These are facts the public deserves to know. That they've been hidden so long is an indictment of California's law enforcement agencies and the politicians who worked so tirelessly to ensure their misdeeds remained hidden. The AG stepping to tell journalists they can't have a document they already have is the wrong kind of audacious. Taxpayers pay the salaries of sworn police officers. They have a right to know how they're money is being spent and whether that money is being used to pay the salaries of officers who have broken the law.

Filed Under: california, criminal cops, foia, free speech, journalism, public records, transparency, xavier becerra

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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Feb 2019 @ 12:17pm

    Re: Re: That can't be right...

    In 2017, ~120,000 people were employed by law enforcement in California, of which ~80,000 were sworn law enforcement officers. According to this, law enforcement officer turnover in California was ~12% in 2008. Assuming that both the total number and turnover rates were constant, then the total number of police officers employed in California over the last decade was ~166,400. (The same source shows that turnover was similar in both 2003 and 2008, so this assumption is somewhat reasonable. It's less obvious that the number of officers would remain constant, though since it's most likely that the number of officers increased over the last decade, this assumption is quite conservative).

    The source article linked in this post states that the list contained 12,000 names, not 12,000 crimes, so it's fairly safe to assume that there are 12,000 police officers included.

    Then, out of the 166,400 police officers employed in the state of California over the last decade, 7.2% of them were convicted of a crime.

    If we look at crime rates in California over the last decade, violent crime rates hovered around 0.5% while property crime rates hovered around 3%. Meaning that the percentage of police officers convicted of a crime is around 2 times higher than the overall rate of crime in California. And as you pointed out, the overall rate of crime is biased upwards by the power law, so that the percentage of criminal police officers is actually more than 2 times higher than the percentage of criminals in California overall.

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