Californians have lost much of their former ability to monitor the performance of police officers and agencies, due in large part to a series of unfavorable court rulings and to the timidity of elected leaders who repeatedly bowed to pressure from law enforcement labor unions. The Legislature now has taken up a modest yet valuable bill that would allow the public to learn which officers fired their weapons, used other serious force or lied about their actions.
…Without such data, it is nearly impossible to learn which officers account for disproportionate injuries, deaths and public liability. Nor is it possible to determine whether agencies operate effective internal investigations and unbiased disciplinary systems. That leaves police departments shockingly free of real oversight from the public they serve.
…Unlike teachers and sanitation workers, though, law enforcement officers take up badges and weapons and are uniquely granted the authority to arrest or even kill in the name of the law. In return, some modicum of access to police records is required to prevent abuse of that enormous power.
The bill, authored by Democrat Nancy Skinner of Berkeley, is so measured that the state’s district attorneys have dropped their opposition. It would make public the currently confidential reports that police departments prepare on a variety of incidents involving officers, including discharging a firearm or using a Taser or other electroshock weapon, striking a person on the head or neck or taking any action that results in serious injury or death.
Access also would be granted to records that show an officer sexually assaulted a member of the public, or lied or falsified evidence in the course of a police investigation or criminal prosecution.
Oversight and access to compromising information about officer performance and malfeasance? I’ll believe it when I see it in action.