By Zohd Khan
DAVIS — In light of several complaints of police misconduct that have transpired locally and nationally throughout 2020, Police Auditor Micheal Gennaco informed the Police Accountability Commission (PAC) of some of the essential rules that must be followed for disciplinary action on a police officer to be permissible by the end of an investigation.
Gennaco’s motive in having this educational discussion with the PAC was in part due to recent criticism of the PAC’s body of knowledge regarding these rules. Although Gennaco believed this was “unfair criticism,” he admitted that “accountability commissions could benefit from knowledge of some of the essential primers that come into our work as auditors.”
Gennaco began by acknowledging the Peace Officer Bill of Rights, which sets out an entire set of special rules that investigators must adhere to when investigating police misconduct. If these rules are not followed, any attempt to discipline officers will be “for naught,” or all for nothing.
One specific requirement Gennaco mentioned was that city investigators have a maximum of one year to complete an investigation if the city desires to discipline the officer accused of misconduct. This rule can have serious consequences as when an agency/city does not have the adequate resources to complete an investigation in a timely manner, they cannot succeed in holding the police accountable.
One historical example cited by Gennaco that exemplifies this concept was when a civilian led model for investigation of police misconduct was employed in San Francisco about six to seven years ago. Communities did not have sufficient expertise on the Peace Officer Bill of Rights, and as a result, 30 percent of their cases resulted in no disciplinary action since they could not meet the time constraint.
Another aspect of the Peace Officer Bill of Rights Gennaco discussed was the process of conducting interviews with police accused of misconduct. He explained that there are certain due process rights that officers are entitled to during an interview. One of those rights is that a maximum of two people can interview a police officer at a given time.
Furthermore, Gennaco explained that it is mandatory to advise an officer of the nature of an interview, or else disciplinary action may not be permitted.
Additionally, investigators are not allowed to use polygraphs (lie detectors) as part of an internal affairs investigation. Gennaco argued that this rule is ironic, stating “many agencies have a polygraph component to the hiring process.” This means that while the investigators are initially subjected to the use of lying detectors, they are told that it is unfair when conducting their own interviews.
Due to the numerous potential violations that could result in an inconsequential investigation, Gennaco emphasized how it is important for “those who are conducting an investigation to be well-versed in the Peace Officer Bill of Rights.” He further mentioned that this problem of unfamiliarity is especially prevalent in citizen-led investigations because of the citizens’ lack of knowledge on certain laws.
Gennaco recognized that there has been a considerable amount of support in changing these laws because of the feeling that “they place the thumb on the scale too heavily in favor of the officers.” Gennaco personally believed that there is always room for improvement in regards to this issue of favoritism, especially since these laws have not been altered in the last 40 years.
Towards the end of the discussion, Gennaco stated that he believes there is a strong likelihood that some legislation favoring police will be addressed and potentially changed in the future (post COVID-19). He explained that there is a lot of “ambiguity” with regards to what instructions an officer must be given in interviews and that laws like the Peace Officer Bill of Rights were implemented back when police unions were widespread, which explains why they may appear to strongly favor the police.