Commentary: Civilian Police Review Under Fire

Share:
Background

Last week, an Alameda County Judge ruled that the Berkeley Police Review Commission’s public hearings violate state confidentiality laws. The Judge wrote:

“Public disclosure of (the commission’s) records” violates a penal code establishing that “records pertaining to peace officer misconduct, complaints, investigations, hearings and personal records are confidential.” (Daily Californian, February 13, 2007).

The ruling allows the commission to privately review complaints and submit its findings confidentially to the Berkeley Police Department.

Last year the California Supreme Court ruled that all police personnel matters are confidential. Most other California cities halted public police disciplinary proceedings after the Supreme Court ruling.

However, Berkeley “continued to fight for the practice, arguing that officers’ “awesome and intrusive powers” should keep the police force open to broad scrutiny” (Associated Press, February 13, 2007).

The Associated Press also reports that the California Newspaper Publishers Association and the ACLU are pushing for legislation in the State Legislature to overturn the Supreme Court decision from last year.

Commentary:

There is a clear balance of principles at stake in this discussion. On the one hand, there is a notion of confidentiality for personnel records not only of police officers but also all public employees. On the other hand, the police have the ability to wield immense and intrusive powers into the private lives of citizens. If misused, an error by a police officer can alter a citizen’s life. That is an immense power and responsibility. So the question is how best do you ensure that police officers are operating within the scope of their duties.

The civilian oversight process argues that transparency of government actions is the best way to ensure that complaints do not merely get swept away. On the other hand, police advocates would argue that a politicized process serves neither the community nor the officer.

My own view on this says that we should err on the side of oversight and transparency and then build in processes to protect the rights and reputations of individual police officers as needed. I believe that not only serves the best interest of individuals but also of the police. The public can trust that the sworn officers of the law are themselves operating within the law’s parameters. That trust will then immeasurably aid the police in the dangerous and vital work that they have to do.

—Doug Paul Davis reporting

Share:

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

Related posts

20 thoughts on “Commentary: Civilian Police Review Under Fire”

  1. Anonymous

    The ruling in Alameda reflects one of the Justice System’s weaknesses – it does not self police itself and interferes in oversight efforts from outside. Too much effort goes into covering up and hiding problems.

    Police Officers can do tremendous damage when they perform poorly. Let me give you an example – I will use a Palo Alto case that happened several years ago. A nursery school teacher (a male) was arrested for sexual abuse on a 4 year old male child. The Palo Alto Police completed a hasty investigation and threw the teacher in jail based on “irrefutable evidence” and interviews with the child. During the following two weeks the Palo Alto Police bragged in the local papers about how they had removed a sexual predator from the streets – a continual effort to smear the guy in the press.

    Three weeks later the teacher was let out of jail. It turned out the “irrefutable evidence” was soap his mother had put there during a bath and both the mother and child had wild imaginations. As for the Palo Alto Police, they had done a remarkably poor investigation. They had jumped to conclusions and never made an effort check their evidence. They had and easy mark (a male working in a nursery school) and rather investigating they spent their time promoting their failed investigation.

    This is exactly the type of case that should get a lot of outside scrutiny. The Palo Alto Police smeared a person for life, but then claimed it would be unfair to evaluate their performance in public.

    Certainly, Police Officers should be put under public scrutiny. Without public scrutiny and criticism there is very little pressure to avoid mistakes and improve.SAH

  2. Anonymous

    The ruling in Alameda reflects one of the Justice System’s weaknesses – it does not self police itself and interferes in oversight efforts from outside. Too much effort goes into covering up and hiding problems.

    Police Officers can do tremendous damage when they perform poorly. Let me give you an example – I will use a Palo Alto case that happened several years ago. A nursery school teacher (a male) was arrested for sexual abuse on a 4 year old male child. The Palo Alto Police completed a hasty investigation and threw the teacher in jail based on “irrefutable evidence” and interviews with the child. During the following two weeks the Palo Alto Police bragged in the local papers about how they had removed a sexual predator from the streets – a continual effort to smear the guy in the press.

    Three weeks later the teacher was let out of jail. It turned out the “irrefutable evidence” was soap his mother had put there during a bath and both the mother and child had wild imaginations. As for the Palo Alto Police, they had done a remarkably poor investigation. They had jumped to conclusions and never made an effort check their evidence. They had and easy mark (a male working in a nursery school) and rather investigating they spent their time promoting their failed investigation.

    This is exactly the type of case that should get a lot of outside scrutiny. The Palo Alto Police smeared a person for life, but then claimed it would be unfair to evaluate their performance in public.

    Certainly, Police Officers should be put under public scrutiny. Without public scrutiny and criticism there is very little pressure to avoid mistakes and improve.SAH

  3. Anonymous

    The ruling in Alameda reflects one of the Justice System’s weaknesses – it does not self police itself and interferes in oversight efforts from outside. Too much effort goes into covering up and hiding problems.

    Police Officers can do tremendous damage when they perform poorly. Let me give you an example – I will use a Palo Alto case that happened several years ago. A nursery school teacher (a male) was arrested for sexual abuse on a 4 year old male child. The Palo Alto Police completed a hasty investigation and threw the teacher in jail based on “irrefutable evidence” and interviews with the child. During the following two weeks the Palo Alto Police bragged in the local papers about how they had removed a sexual predator from the streets – a continual effort to smear the guy in the press.

    Three weeks later the teacher was let out of jail. It turned out the “irrefutable evidence” was soap his mother had put there during a bath and both the mother and child had wild imaginations. As for the Palo Alto Police, they had done a remarkably poor investigation. They had jumped to conclusions and never made an effort check their evidence. They had and easy mark (a male working in a nursery school) and rather investigating they spent their time promoting their failed investigation.

    This is exactly the type of case that should get a lot of outside scrutiny. The Palo Alto Police smeared a person for life, but then claimed it would be unfair to evaluate their performance in public.

    Certainly, Police Officers should be put under public scrutiny. Without public scrutiny and criticism there is very little pressure to avoid mistakes and improve.SAH

  4. Anonymous

    The ruling in Alameda reflects one of the Justice System’s weaknesses – it does not self police itself and interferes in oversight efforts from outside. Too much effort goes into covering up and hiding problems.

    Police Officers can do tremendous damage when they perform poorly. Let me give you an example – I will use a Palo Alto case that happened several years ago. A nursery school teacher (a male) was arrested for sexual abuse on a 4 year old male child. The Palo Alto Police completed a hasty investigation and threw the teacher in jail based on “irrefutable evidence” and interviews with the child. During the following two weeks the Palo Alto Police bragged in the local papers about how they had removed a sexual predator from the streets – a continual effort to smear the guy in the press.

    Three weeks later the teacher was let out of jail. It turned out the “irrefutable evidence” was soap his mother had put there during a bath and both the mother and child had wild imaginations. As for the Palo Alto Police, they had done a remarkably poor investigation. They had jumped to conclusions and never made an effort check their evidence. They had and easy mark (a male working in a nursery school) and rather investigating they spent their time promoting their failed investigation.

    This is exactly the type of case that should get a lot of outside scrutiny. The Palo Alto Police smeared a person for life, but then claimed it would be unfair to evaluate their performance in public.

    Certainly, Police Officers should be put under public scrutiny. Without public scrutiny and criticism there is very little pressure to avoid mistakes and improve.SAH

  5. Rich Rifkin

    This is the story of the arrest in Palo Alto.

    And this is the story of the charges being dropped.

    While I don’t know any more about this case than what was reported in the papers, it seems to me that the police in Palo Alto were in a tough spot, once it was alleged that a child had been sexually assaulted. Obviously, no one wants to let a sexual predator remain free on his own recognizance while the cops are trying to figure out if a crime really occurred. On the other hand, it’s horrible to stain this guy’s reputation with an unwarrented arrest for a spurious charge.

    Nevertheless, I think the biased statements of the cops show that they jumped to a conclusion well before they had done what SAH said they ought to have done, a thorough investigation.

    “The problem with pedophiles is that they don’t stop at just one. But we’re hoping this is the first time this guy has done this,” he said.

    The “he” in this case was the police spokesman. He made this statement the day that they arrested David Carlson. That shows me that the cops closed the minds far too quickly. I would add that the DA’s office in Santa Clara County doesn’t come off too well in this case, either.

  6. Rich Rifkin

    This is the story of the arrest in Palo Alto.

    And this is the story of the charges being dropped.

    While I don’t know any more about this case than what was reported in the papers, it seems to me that the police in Palo Alto were in a tough spot, once it was alleged that a child had been sexually assaulted. Obviously, no one wants to let a sexual predator remain free on his own recognizance while the cops are trying to figure out if a crime really occurred. On the other hand, it’s horrible to stain this guy’s reputation with an unwarrented arrest for a spurious charge.

    Nevertheless, I think the biased statements of the cops show that they jumped to a conclusion well before they had done what SAH said they ought to have done, a thorough investigation.

    “The problem with pedophiles is that they don’t stop at just one. But we’re hoping this is the first time this guy has done this,” he said.

    The “he” in this case was the police spokesman. He made this statement the day that they arrested David Carlson. That shows me that the cops closed the minds far too quickly. I would add that the DA’s office in Santa Clara County doesn’t come off too well in this case, either.

  7. Rich Rifkin

    This is the story of the arrest in Palo Alto.

    And this is the story of the charges being dropped.

    While I don’t know any more about this case than what was reported in the papers, it seems to me that the police in Palo Alto were in a tough spot, once it was alleged that a child had been sexually assaulted. Obviously, no one wants to let a sexual predator remain free on his own recognizance while the cops are trying to figure out if a crime really occurred. On the other hand, it’s horrible to stain this guy’s reputation with an unwarrented arrest for a spurious charge.

    Nevertheless, I think the biased statements of the cops show that they jumped to a conclusion well before they had done what SAH said they ought to have done, a thorough investigation.

    “The problem with pedophiles is that they don’t stop at just one. But we’re hoping this is the first time this guy has done this,” he said.

    The “he” in this case was the police spokesman. He made this statement the day that they arrested David Carlson. That shows me that the cops closed the minds far too quickly. I would add that the DA’s office in Santa Clara County doesn’t come off too well in this case, either.

  8. Rich Rifkin

    This is the story of the arrest in Palo Alto.

    And this is the story of the charges being dropped.

    While I don’t know any more about this case than what was reported in the papers, it seems to me that the police in Palo Alto were in a tough spot, once it was alleged that a child had been sexually assaulted. Obviously, no one wants to let a sexual predator remain free on his own recognizance while the cops are trying to figure out if a crime really occurred. On the other hand, it’s horrible to stain this guy’s reputation with an unwarrented arrest for a spurious charge.

    Nevertheless, I think the biased statements of the cops show that they jumped to a conclusion well before they had done what SAH said they ought to have done, a thorough investigation.

    “The problem with pedophiles is that they don’t stop at just one. But we’re hoping this is the first time this guy has done this,” he said.

    The “he” in this case was the police spokesman. He made this statement the day that they arrested David Carlson. That shows me that the cops closed the minds far too quickly. I would add that the DA’s office in Santa Clara County doesn’t come off too well in this case, either.

  9. Rich Rifkin

    FWIW, this was in the story which explains that the charges were dropped:

    Defense Attorney Ken Robinson said dropping the charge against his client should not reflect badly on the Palo Alto Police Department or the district attorney’s office.

    “The system worked. He was arrested and he was exonerated,” Robinson said.

  10. Rich Rifkin

    FWIW, this was in the story which explains that the charges were dropped:

    Defense Attorney Ken Robinson said dropping the charge against his client should not reflect badly on the Palo Alto Police Department or the district attorney’s office.

    “The system worked. He was arrested and he was exonerated,” Robinson said.

  11. Rich Rifkin

    FWIW, this was in the story which explains that the charges were dropped:

    Defense Attorney Ken Robinson said dropping the charge against his client should not reflect badly on the Palo Alto Police Department or the district attorney’s office.

    “The system worked. He was arrested and he was exonerated,” Robinson said.

  12. Rich Rifkin

    FWIW, this was in the story which explains that the charges were dropped:

    Defense Attorney Ken Robinson said dropping the charge against his client should not reflect badly on the Palo Alto Police Department or the district attorney’s office.

    “The system worked. He was arrested and he was exonerated,” Robinson said.

  13. Doug Paul Davis

    The thing that strikes me about SAH’s story is that the arrest is public immediately. However police want to have their process private. That seems to be an incongruity in the system.

  14. Doug Paul Davis

    The thing that strikes me about SAH’s story is that the arrest is public immediately. However police want to have their process private. That seems to be an incongruity in the system.

  15. Doug Paul Davis

    The thing that strikes me about SAH’s story is that the arrest is public immediately. However police want to have their process private. That seems to be an incongruity in the system.

  16. Doug Paul Davis

    The thing that strikes me about SAH’s story is that the arrest is public immediately. However police want to have their process private. That seems to be an incongruity in the system.

  17. Rich Rifkin

    In the Canadian system, the details of an arrest are kept private. Even a court hearing is private, up to the point of conviction. Ours is just the opposite.

    But our open system stems from the American colonists’ reaction against the British system, where the Americans felt that if the people were informed as to what the government was doing, there would be less chance for the government to abuse the rights of citizens.

    I don’t know enough about the Canadian system to know who is right. However, I do think, in cases where someone is arrested for a serious crime, I think the arrestee, up to the point of conviction, should have the right (as in Canada) to keep his name private.

    In the case in Palo Alto, surely the people close to that particular school would have known that it was David Carlson who had been arrested. But his name need not have been made public and reported in the newspapers if he didn’t want it there. Had that been kept private, he could have more easily carried on with his life after the matter was cleared up.

    (I think it’s particularly galling that some jurisdictions put the names and photographs of people arrested for soliciting prostitution on cable television. Certainly some of those arrestees will be found to be not guilty. And when that happens, where does the innocent person go to get his good name back?)

  18. Rich Rifkin

    In the Canadian system, the details of an arrest are kept private. Even a court hearing is private, up to the point of conviction. Ours is just the opposite.

    But our open system stems from the American colonists’ reaction against the British system, where the Americans felt that if the people were informed as to what the government was doing, there would be less chance for the government to abuse the rights of citizens.

    I don’t know enough about the Canadian system to know who is right. However, I do think, in cases where someone is arrested for a serious crime, I think the arrestee, up to the point of conviction, should have the right (as in Canada) to keep his name private.

    In the case in Palo Alto, surely the people close to that particular school would have known that it was David Carlson who had been arrested. But his name need not have been made public and reported in the newspapers if he didn’t want it there. Had that been kept private, he could have more easily carried on with his life after the matter was cleared up.

    (I think it’s particularly galling that some jurisdictions put the names and photographs of people arrested for soliciting prostitution on cable television. Certainly some of those arrestees will be found to be not guilty. And when that happens, where does the innocent person go to get his good name back?)

  19. Rich Rifkin

    In the Canadian system, the details of an arrest are kept private. Even a court hearing is private, up to the point of conviction. Ours is just the opposite.

    But our open system stems from the American colonists’ reaction against the British system, where the Americans felt that if the people were informed as to what the government was doing, there would be less chance for the government to abuse the rights of citizens.

    I don’t know enough about the Canadian system to know who is right. However, I do think, in cases where someone is arrested for a serious crime, I think the arrestee, up to the point of conviction, should have the right (as in Canada) to keep his name private.

    In the case in Palo Alto, surely the people close to that particular school would have known that it was David Carlson who had been arrested. But his name need not have been made public and reported in the newspapers if he didn’t want it there. Had that been kept private, he could have more easily carried on with his life after the matter was cleared up.

    (I think it’s particularly galling that some jurisdictions put the names and photographs of people arrested for soliciting prostitution on cable television. Certainly some of those arrestees will be found to be not guilty. And when that happens, where does the innocent person go to get his good name back?)

  20. Rich Rifkin

    In the Canadian system, the details of an arrest are kept private. Even a court hearing is private, up to the point of conviction. Ours is just the opposite.

    But our open system stems from the American colonists’ reaction against the British system, where the Americans felt that if the people were informed as to what the government was doing, there would be less chance for the government to abuse the rights of citizens.

    I don’t know enough about the Canadian system to know who is right. However, I do think, in cases where someone is arrested for a serious crime, I think the arrestee, up to the point of conviction, should have the right (as in Canada) to keep his name private.

    In the case in Palo Alto, surely the people close to that particular school would have known that it was David Carlson who had been arrested. But his name need not have been made public and reported in the newspapers if he didn’t want it there. Had that been kept private, he could have more easily carried on with his life after the matter was cleared up.

    (I think it’s particularly galling that some jurisdictions put the names and photographs of people arrested for soliciting prostitution on cable television. Certainly some of those arrestees will be found to be not guilty. And when that happens, where does the innocent person go to get his good name back?)

Leave a Reply

X Close

Newsletter Sign-Up

X Close

Monthly Subscriber Sign-Up

Enter the maximum amount you want to pay each month
$ USD
Sign up for