29 Aug The ‘Wall of Silence’ That Protects Police Abuse
By Bob Wing
The California legislature has passed several important criminal justice reforms since the Black Lives Matter movement surged two years ago.
But it steadfastly rejects even minor reforms to the draconian Police Bill of Rights.
In California a version of the Police Bill of Rights was passed by Democrats more than 30 years ago to protect honest police from unfair internal investigations, but it soon morphed into a safety net for bad cops.
Former California Supreme Court Justice Cruz Reynoso denounces the Police Bill of Rights as erecting a police “wall of silence” against the community.
Over the last thirty years police unions and their supporters have succeeded not only in fending off any attempts to reform it, but have successfully built a nearly impenetrable barrier restricting public access to law enforcement disciplinary records and civilian complaints in California.
“California is the most restrictive state in the nation, when it comes to police secrecy,” said Jim Chanin, a former ACLU attorney in San Francisco. “It’s California’s dirty little secret.”
Under state law, police personnel records are confidential, including personal data, promotion, appraisal and discipline records, and what the law calls “any other information the disclosure of which would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” Only a judge can order their release as part of a criminal case or lawsuit.
California’s extraordinary police protections were made virtually foolproof in 2006 when the California Supreme Court ruled in favor of Copley Press v. Superior Court that civilian police commissions could not publicly disclose their findings on police misconduct.
POLICE ABUSE SHOULD BE ‘IN THE PUBLIC LIGHT’
This makes it extremely difficult to identify let alone prosecute police misconduct.
This summer the legislature shot down two common sense reform attempts. It killed a measure sponsored by Assemblymember Bill Quirk that would allow the public to request police body camera footage in incidents where officers were accused of excessive use-of-force.
And it rejected a bill by Sen. Mark Leno that would have allowed the public to get information about police investigations into officer shootings and other serious uses of force.
California’s highly organized and well-financed police unions, which dole out tens of millions to legislators, argue the bills are crucial to officer safety, but according to the Orange County Register, “evidence to back this claim is virtually non-existent.”
After a comprehensive investigation, the Register concluded: “The argument that the lives of police officers depends on secrecy has been used to quash public information requests across the United States. But seldom, if ever, can police offer any evidence to back up the argument.”
David Kling, a former LAPD officer and an expert in lethal force at the University of Missouri, told the Register: “I know thousands of police officers involved in shootings who’ve been named and there never has been a problem. I don’t think the standard pattern of withholding names is a good thing to do.”
“When [cops] commit a violation, why shouldn’t they be in the public light?”