Belying that debate was the entire legality regarding the ability of a public body to obtain records from police officers and conduct hearings of allegations of police misconduct. Since the August 2006 California Supreme Court decision in Copley Press v. Superior Court, California law has prevented the public from learning about police officers who have been disciplined because of misconduct. Hearings and records that previously were public are now closed.
According to the ACLU:
“Unlike similar records on all other public employees, doctors, and lawyers, records on serious police misconduct and any resulting disciplinary action are now classified as confidential—that is, not public. This decision hides not only the extent to which problems may exist within a police department, but also the ways in which management addresses misconduct when it occurs.”
State Senate Majority Leader Gloria Romero said:
“Members, if your attorney is disciplined, you can find that out. It’s public information. If your doctor loses his or her license, you can find that out. It’s public information. If anyone of us in this room is arrested, not convicted, just arrested, or any one of our friends, our staff or family, we can find that out. It’s public information. If the same peace officer who arrested you is disciplined or even terminated for serious misconduct, it, now after the Copley case, is completely secret.”
Davis City Attorney Harriet Steiner went through a similar song and dance to what she did last year when the issue of a police oversight commission was first raised, explaining that state law prevents the airing of such hearings in public.
What she failed to mention on Tuesday, was that there is legislation moving through the California State Senate and Assembly, that would restore the legality of civilian review, effectively leaving the law as it was prior to the Copley Press decision where local jurisdiction would have the ability to create complaint review processes that are open to the public.
We discussed this legislation back in May as it was about to be heard on the Senate Floor. Since then, on June 4, 2007, the California Senate approved SB 1019. Our local State Senator Mike Machado voted for the bill as did Sacramento State Senator Darrell Steinberg and Contra Costa County State Senator Tom Torlakson.
Having passed the California State Senate, the bill is moving on to the Assembly Public Safety Committee. Next Tuesday, June 26, 2007 at 9 a.m. the committee will have a hearing on the legislation.
The Vanguard will be there to cover this important issue and organizers would like as many supporters as possible to attend the hearing.
The Assembly Public Safety Committee is a six member committee chaired by Jose Solorio from Southern California. The Vice Chair is Greg Aghazarian, who represents San Joaquin and Stanislaus Counties. He will be the likely Republican Nominee for the open 5th Senate Seat. Assemblywoman Lois Wolk who represents the 8th AD and Yolo County will be seeking the Democratic Nomination as may John Garamendi, Jr.
It is unclear if Governor Schwarzenegger would sign such legislation, but there is a renewed pushed in the wake of the police incident that occurred in Los Angeles during the May Day protests. There was also a well publicized incident on the UCLA campus where a UC Police Officer used a taser multiple times on a student in the library that was caught on video. Such incidents have led to both Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Police Chief William Bratton to endorse the measure.
On June 7, 2007, the Sacramento Bee joined 13 other California Papers including the Fresno Bee, Los Angeles Times, Oakland Tribune, Orange County Register, San Diego Union Tribune, and San Francisco Chronicle in supporting this legislation.
The Bee writes:
“One of the most important elements for maintaining the public’s trust in law enforcement is how police departments and police boards handle investigations of members of their own forces.
Keeping those records secret, in the end, doesn’t serve the police departments or the public, but for those officers who have been disciplined it’s obviously in their interest to keep matters under wraps.”
Predictably the Professional Peace Officers Association is strongly opposed to such legislation. What is interesting is that in an email, John Stites, the President of PPOA threatened to retaliate against legislators.
However, he did so by threatening to oppose legislation that would reform term limits:
“As I have said all along, PPOA and SCALE adamantly oppose this legislation to the point that if it is passed we will move quickly to oppose any term limit reform legislation publicly. There is no compromise on this. Ensure that it be understood that this will only be the beginning. I do not know how I can be more clear on this issue. Jim Vogts has been informed of our position.”
Tuesday’s hearing should prove insightful, but it may also be moot if the Governor ends up opposing such legislation aimed to re-open the process of police oversight to the public.
—Doug Paul Davis reporting