While the passage of the First Step Act and its passage represents a tremendous step forward for criminal justice reformers in that the sentencing reform passed overwhelmingly 87-12, but one Amendment that failed was sponsored by Republican US Senator Tim Scott – the only African American Republican in the body.
The junior Republican from South Carolina authored the Walter Scott Notification Act, named for the motorist who was shot and killed by a North Charleston police officer after fleeing a traffic stop.
Senator Scott’s amendment would have “stipulated that any state receiving federal law-enforcement funding must collect and preserve key data tied to such incidents, including name, race, description of the event and overall circumstances that led to the weapon being discharged,” according to the Post and Courier.
“States that do not comply would have been subject to a 10 percent reduction in federal grant funds,” the article reported.
“This week’s criminal justice reform package provides us with an amazing opportunity to ensure the scales of justice are weighted equally for all Americans,” Senator Scott said before the final vote was held.
Senator Scott, who isn’t related to Walter Scott, touted his proposal, saying, “By giving us a deeper understanding of situations that lead to officer-related shootings, I believe the Walter Scott Notification Act can keep both our law enforcement officers and our communities safer.”
In the meantime in California, “San Bernardino County sheriff’s employees are seeking an emergency order from the California Supreme Court to prohibit law enforcement agencies from retroactively releasing police disciplinary records under a new law,” reported the Orange County Register on Wednesday.
SB 1421 was touted by civil rights leaders as a huge breakthrough in a state among the most secretive regarding police records. Beginning January 1, the law will allow the public to gain access to police personnel records for officers involved in the use of deadly force, sustained allegations of sexual assault and sustained misconduct.
The Bee in a May op-ed noted that because of 40 years of bad law, “we, the taxpayers, know next to nothing about most of the 162 cases last year in which California law enforcement officers on our payroll killed people in our name.”
They go on to point out: “If an officer has been accused repeatedly of abuse, or disciplined for lying, or denied a promotion because of unprofessional behavior, that information can’t be disclosed. The public can’t know unless a judge orders it as part of a criminal case or lawsuit. In some cases, in fact, it’s even blocked from the view of other law enforcement agencies.”
The Sheriff’s group has asked the state’s high court “for an immediate order banning enforcement of the new law for incidents that occurred before Jan. 1, 2019. Essentially, no shootings or other forms of misconduct before that date could be considered for release if the order is granted.”
“SEBA is very concerned about any plans to retroactively apply Senate Bill 1421,” said SEBA President Grant Ward. “We believe retroactive application violates our members’ rights and we hope the California Supreme Court will consider the serious issues raised by our legal challenge.”
The group is seeking an immediate stay, pointing to the short, 10-day deadline for agencies to comply with requests for the personnel records.
Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore wrote to Skinner that the law, if applied in a retroactive manner, would be “exceptionally burdensome and would require significant reallocation of front-line investigative personnel,” such that “the workload on the men and women of the LAPD could prove to be well beyond any reasonable expectation given the sheer volume of complaints and incidents maintained by that agency.”
The court request from the San Bernardino sheriff’s union said police privacy could be irreparably harmed.
“Petitioner has no plain, speedy or adequate remedy … to obtain prompt and final resolution of this controversy so as to prevent irreparable harm and violation of the right of peace officers to confidentiality of their peace officer personnel records and information,” the motion said.
Meanwhile in Sacramento, the war of words continues over the efforts by Sacramento Sheriff Scott Jones to prevent Sacramento County inspector general Rick Braziel from reviewing an officer involved shooting.
When the former Sacramento Police Chief criticized his department’s handling of the shooting, the Sheriff froze him out of his office.
In early December, he defended the lock out saying that while he supports the idea of oversight, he warned the board members not to go too far in trying to provide oversight of an independently elected official.
“An elected official should be free to do the people’s business without outside, undue influence,” Sheriff Jones told the board.
A Bee editorial likened Scott Jones’ use of power to that of Bull Connor, the infamous Birmingham public safety commissioners from the 1960s noted for turning dogs and firehoses on civil rights protesters.
Wrote the Bee, “People like Jones should be leading the way toward solutions. Instead Jones has fought to hide the truth, evade accountability, bully critics and muzzle those charged with holding him accountable. He proudly resists progress.”
The Bee called on the County Supervisors to “summon the courage to stand up and step in.”
Meanwhile Supervisor Sue Frost has fired back, defending law enforcement. In her own op-ed this week, she writes: “I disagree with those who say “all cops are bad.” I know many law enforcement officers. Most are dedicated public servants who do heroic, dangerous jobs. And they do it well — which is illustrated by the fact that unincorporated Sacramento County had the largest decrease in crime of any jurisdiction in the region, according to the latest Sheriff’s Department data.”
She argued that while we not “belittle the death of anyone, including those in custody or during arrest. We should be vigilant to ensure there are as few deaths as possible during arrest and in custody. But, despite claims by some, I don’t believe that should be the only metric by which we judge our criminal justice system. I think the most important metric is reduced crime rates — or in other words, a reduction in the number of innocent victims.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting