Police transparency bill dies in California Legislature

June 20, 2016

Police carAs multiple police scandals swirl around Northern California, including an Oakland sex scandal that has infected several Bay Area agencies, there is little hope citizens and journalists in the state will obtain access to officer personnel records. A bill that would have made disciplinary information available to the public died in a State Senate committee last month. [Pro Publica]

Currently, the Oakland Police Department is embroiled in sex and race scandals that have led to the firing or resignation of three chiefs of police in an eight-day span. At least 14 Oakland officers are alleged to have sex with the now 18-year-old daughter of one of the departments dispatchers, who worked as a prostitute while she was still a minor.

One officer has committed suicide over the sex scandal, and racist emails which include discussions of the KKK, have surfaced amid an investigation into the department.

In addition, sheriff’s deputies and correctional officers in San Francisco, Alameda County and Santa Clara County are facing charges ranging from assault to murder. Also, four Alameda County deputies are accused of having sex with prostitute, as are five Richmond police officers and one Livermore officer.

California is one of 23 states that deem police misconduct records confidential. A 1978 amendment to the state penal code bars disclosure of law enforcement personnel records. Also, California’s Public Records Act gives police and prosecutors the authority to withhold documents related to open and closed criminal cases.

The only ways to obtain the records are through civil litigation or involvement in a criminal case. Even in those circumstances, the personnel records tend to remain out of the public view.

State Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) recently authored SB 1286, a bill that would have made officer misconduct and disciplinary information available to the public.

In the case of a police shooting, SB 1286 would have allowed the public to obtain the entire investigative file compiled by detectives. Only personal data would have been redacted. The public would also have been allowed to learn if any discipline was imposed on officers involved in the incident.

Law enforcement organizations opposed the bill, claiming it would invade the privacy of officers, generate more mistrust of policemen and make them targets of people seeking revenge for police shootings. The legislation was backed by the ACLU and the California Newspaper Publishers Association.

“Police in California shouldn’t be able to operate as if they’re the CIA,” said Chauncee Smith, a legislative advocate with the California ACLU.

Leno’s bill died in committee, and any similar legislation that could arise is not expected to advance through the Legislature anytime soon.   



  1. Gordo says:

    Ron Holt:

    Ask yourself what it is that you seek to gain from transparency of police officer Personnel records.

    In California there is already an existing mechanism call me the Pitchess Motion which allows for the discovery of police misconduct contained within Personnel records of individual officers in the cases where misconduct may play a role in a particular criminal case.

    There also exists in California something called the Brady List which refers to a U.S. Supreme Court case Brady vs Maryland. Officers who are found to have lied either on the stand or in reports may be added to the Brady List which makes them ineligible to work in law enforcement and to testify in a court of law in a criminal or civil action.

    In California the Brady lists are managed by each individual District Attorney’s offices and any agency upon cause may add an officer who has been found to be guilty of lying to the list.

    There is a national movement afoot in the Congress to create a national Brady List database that would link all 50 states together to ensure the integrity of police officers nationwide.

    What is being sought in Sacramento relating to total transparency is every little detail related to an officer’s career. Was the officer ever reprimanded for driving too fast. Did the officer receive a counseling memorandum for writing a poorly worded report. Did some crank citizen make a frivolous complaint about the officer which was proven untrue.

    This type of information has never been discoverable under the current mechanisms in place nor would it be, as a judge would find little use of any of this information in any type of a potential criminal case.

    Law enforcement officers are our employees; we pay their salaries and benefits and we can expect from them the very best behavior and the very best performance.

    That doesn’t necessarily mean we get to know every little nitty-gritty detail about their career any more than we should know every nitty-gritty detail about your career.

    One of the other people who posted here made a snide comment about law enforcement officers wearing their high school GPA around their neck. It might come to this as a surprise to many of you but most of the people who apply for law enforcement jobs today possess at a minimum a bachelor’s degree and many possess master’s degrees. Currently a number of deputy sheriffs are attending Law School. When I asked them why they were pursuing a law degree they told me that given the public sentiment towards law enforcement they didn’t feel that there was any future in their career and they wanted to go someplace where they can make a lot of money and not have to take potshots from the public.

    In San Luis Obispo County you are very fortunate to have across the board very good law enforcement officers who have chosen to do their duty and to protect you and keep you safe. If you wish to make war on them do so, but understand that you had better make peace with your criminal element.

    (3) 7 Total Votes - 5 up - 2 down
    • standup says:

      Yeah right. Cory Pierce, the SLO PD detective that was once with the NTF the got convicted of bribery and extortion a few years back was just the model officer. He did 18 months in the federal pen. AJ Santana lying to a judge was darn lucky he wasn’t convicted as he plead stupidity. Lisa Solemon, chief of Paso Robles dancing on bar tops and stripping in a hot tub? Officers convicted of bringing in contraband into CMC? NTF killing a guy they held down too long? Across the board? I think not. At least say across the board except for a few bad apples or something. Most of the local cops have college degrees and many have masters? Show us the proof. Start with sheriff department and show us the true numbers and post the diplomas. If you are right, kudos. Most means about 75% I would say. I agree there are some good officers around here but I said some.

      (1) 3 Total Votes - 2 up - 1 down
  2. Pelican1 says:

    Police transparency bills dies..ANY and ALL gun control legislation fails just 8 days after the worst mass killing in America…where are we heading? and a guy like Trump might be tyhe next President…America is a mess!

    (-7) 15 Total Votes - 4 up - 11 down
    • RonHolt says:

      The gun control legislation in this state has been passing like a case of salmonella. Some measures will be tossed when challenged in court and most will be ineffective. Maybe this is one of those rare cases where Congress is actually thinking better than Sacramento.

      (4) 4 Total Votes - 4 up - 0 down
  3. joseywales says:

    every policeman should be made to wear his high school curriculum and gpa around his/her neck so when they speak to you about honesty, integrity, and work ethic you can laugh your arse off.

    (-2) 8 Total Votes - 3 up - 5 down
  4. Gordo says:

    I agree with full disclosure of personnel records as long as we have full disclosure of investigative records on citizens too.

    Right now if a citizen is suspected of a crime and an investigation is conducted the investigation and the information that is learned is deemed confidential and is not discoverable by other members of the public. Such investigations only become public documents when a case is actually filed with the Superior Court and not prior to the filing of criminal charges.

    If the state of California wants to change the law so that every investigation of every person no matter how trivial can be looked up and read by that person’s neighbor or anyone else who is curious then I am in whole hearted support of opening the files up on everyone.

    law enforcement officers, elected officials, members of the press and each and every taxpayer should live under the same rules so that we can know what each of us is up to or what mischief we have gotten into.

    Isn’t that what is best for a free democratic society?

    (-7) 17 Total Votes - 5 up - 12 down
    • RonHolt says:

      There is a bit of a difference between a police officer (or any other official) acting as a agent of the government and a private citizen. I would be OK with treating their private, off-the-job actions the same as any other citizen. But, when it comes to what they do during the course of their jobs, I want disclosure. It doesn’t have to come immediately before any investigation is done but it does need to come within a reasonable time.

      I know many cops don’t believe that the general public can accurately judge whether or not their actions are reasonable under the circumstances but they need to make their case openly and trust that enough of us will do so to protect them from those who would try to manipulate the system unfairly. Maybe they need to be a bit less clannish about their work and a bit more inclined to treat individuals they meet during work with more respect until they are given reason to do otherwise. They could then rely on the general public for support when they deserve it.

      Locally, I think that most police officers are at least basically honest. I think that certain departments are a bit more prone to having problem officers though — whether due to selection, training or supervision I do not know. But problem officers seem to collect in police departments where the leadership is poor.

      (2) 4 Total Votes - 3 up - 1 down
  5. Francesca Bolognini says:

    Rather that blaming CCN for the lack of transparency in OUR GOVERNMENT, I consider it our duty to lean on anyone in government (Of, By and For The People) to immediately correct the problem. I applaud the research individuals are doing, but it should not be so difficult to know what the character, behavior and disciplinary actions of our EMPLOYEES happen to be.

    Rather than blaming Dems, or GOPs, or focusing on the actions of one race or another, we should avoid being distracted from the problem of our lack of control of the system itself, a situation that was brought about by both parties and will not be corrected without pressure from a united front of citizens who will not stand for such tactics. Law Enforcement officers are employed by us. They work within our communities and affect our lives directly by their actions or lack thereof.

    Mr. Smith, of the ACLU made an excellent point. Law Enforcement are not the CIA and should not be allowed to behave as if they were. Shall we please not attempt to divide and point fingers, along race and party lines, but address the problem directly? A secretive police force is just one step closer to Fascism. Anyone, from either side of the isle or any race that advocates for such a thing is worthy of being immediately removed from office. Let’s put some effort into researching candidates that protect our freedoms and promote transparency, with a record of impartiality and lack of corporate donors, to guard the interests of The People.

    (11) 17 Total Votes - 14 up - 3 down
    • RonHolt says:

      You are right on the money here. Totalitarian government can come from either political orientation and I see distinct possibilities with both of our current main presidential candidates. (The main difference seems to be in style — Hillary is more subtle, Donald is more direct.) Both use scapegoating and fear-mongering to push their agendas.

      As long as the voting public continues to respond to these tactics they will continue to empower whoever runs the government to use the force of government to suppress dissent. This applies not only to support for abusive law enforcement officers and policies but for laws against free speech/dissent, privacy of communications, gun ownership, warrantless seizures of property and other individual rights outlined in the US Constitution.

      Voters need to consider that once rights are given away, they are unlikely to be given back when someone they don’t like or trust is elected.

      (3) 5 Total Votes - 4 up - 1 down
  6. panflash says:

    CCN’s article above says “… racist emails which include discussions of the KKK, have surfaced amid an investigation into the department.” So, we see the terms “racist emails” and “discussions of the KKK” and, as a result, many readers may assume that the “racist emails” involved white officers.

    Well, the LA Times says “According to Schaaf, several African American officers sent and received messages that were “wholly inappropriate and not acceptable from anyone who wears the badge of the Oakland Police Department.”

    Got that, CCN? According to the LA Times, at least, the Oakland Mayor says that the police officers in that racist e-mail investigation were apparently African-American.

    Interesting that you really have to dig through the voluminous articles in Google to ferret out that little inconvenient fact.

    (11) 17 Total Votes - 14 up - 3 down
    • kettle says:

      “Got that, CCN? According to the LA Times, at least, the Oakland Mayor says that the police officers in that racist e-mail investigation were apparently African-American.”

      Shooting the messenger aside, Did you think racism was only a white people thing? If so it’s ignorance on the readers point of view, to think only whites discuss the 3xK.

      What are you trying to prove? Who are you trying to blame for what?
      Spit it out, instead of waiving your anonymous brush around like you “uncovered” something.

      Got that “panflash”?

      (2) 12 Total Votes - 7 up - 5 down
  7. mej says:

    The irony in this is that the democrats are protecting the police. Five of seven members that killed this bill are democrats.

    How do they explain this contradiction of their party platform? Hillary stands surrounded by people who think she is anti-police like her and think she is going to do something. But her like-minded cronies and supporters in California government will not.

    Remember in 2001 when Lt. Cruz Bustamante used the “N” word in a speech.
    “Bustamante, the state’s highest ranking Latino, was the keynote speaker at the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists annual awards dinner and scholarship fund-raiser. About 400 people attended, said Marshall Walker, who served as the master of ceremonies at the event.
    In an interview with The Chronicle, Bustamante said he is “mortified” for using the “n-word” and offers no excuse for his comment.”

    These democrats are closet racists. Yet they can stand in a crowd of Black union workers and use the N word and …..

    (14) 26 Total Votes - 20 up - 6 down

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