Police Reform Bill Targeting Records of Bad Cops Clears CA Legislature, Heads to Gov’s Desk

By The Vanguard Staff

SACRAMENTO, CA – Legislation to make public more police misconduct records was OK’d by the State Senate Thursday0—it’s only one of several hot-button police reform measures in the State Legislature—and moved to the governor’s desk for signature.

The Senate passed SB 16 on a 29-9 vote; the full Assembly approved it 57-3 earlier.

Author Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) said SB 16 would “strengthen communities’ ability to hold law enforcement agencies accountable” by allowing “access to records of officers who have engaged in biased or discriminatory behavior, conducted unlawful arrests or searches, or used force that is excessive or unreasonable.”

Skinner said SB 16 would also “open access to records of officers who failed to intervene when another officer used unreasonable or excessive force and ensure that officers with a history of misconduct can’t just quit their jobs, keep their records secret, and move on to continue bad behavior in another jurisdiction.

“Communities deserve to know that those hired to protect them can be counted on to do so. With SB 16, we will now have the tools to hold our police departments accountable and rebuild trust,” said Sen. Skinner. “SB 16 also sends a clear message that officers who persist in racist or abusive behavior will not be hidden from the public any longer.”

Skinner added, “Years of hiding officer misconduct has resulted in a crisis of faith in law enforcement. Giving communities access to information about officer conduct, which is exactly what SB 16 does, will help restore trust.”

SB 16 expands the categories of police records the public can access, and closes loopholes that keep misconduct records hidden. According to Skinner, the bill, if signed, would:

–  Open access to sustained findings on officers who used force that was unreasonable or excessive or failed to intervene when another officer used unreasonable or excessive force.

–  Provide access to sustained findings on officers who engaged in racist or biased behavior or conducted unlawful arrests or searches.

–  Increase the length of time agencies must keep records of sustained findings of misconduct from five to 15 years.

–  Mandate that records be released if an officer quits before a misconduct investigation is complete.

–  Require agencies, before hiring a candidate who has prior law enforcement experience, to review that officer’s prior history of complaints, disciplinary hearings, and uses of force.

–  Bar agencies from claiming attorney-client privilege to keep otherwise public records secret.

–  Mandate that records are made public no later than 45 days from the date of a request for their release.

–  Prohibit agencies from charging more than the actual cost of copying records.

Pro-law enforcement groups successfully lobbied to mitigate the measure, though, resulting in records access only to cases in which “sustained findings” were made against officers.

California’s influential law enforcement professional organizations and associations complained the proposal went “too far and would unfairly expose unfounded allegations against officers.” Cities and counties also were opposed because they felt it may lead to more payments to victims of police violence.

SB 16 follows Skinner’s 2018 law—SB 1421—that provided for the first real look into records of police misconduct in more than four decades that led to more public information about police violence, including beatings, shootings and other violent tactics.

A legislative vote is still expected on SB 2, which would maintain an investigatory body able to investigate and, if necessary, de-certify and effectively fire officers for breaching standards.

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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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