SACRAMENTO — A California Senate committee killed a bill to increase transparency in police misconduct investigations, hampering victims’ efforts to obtain justice.
Chauncee Smith, legislative advocate at the ACLU of California, told MintPress News that the state Legislature “caved to the tremendous influence and power of the law enforcement lobby” and “failed to listen to the demands and concerns of everyday Californian people.”
California has some of the most secretive rules in the country when it comes to investigations into police misconduct and excessive use of force. Records are kept sealed, regardless of the outcome, as the ACLU of Northern California explains on its website:
“In places like Texas, Kentucky, and Utah, peace officer records are made public when an officer is found guilty of misconduct. Other states make records public regardless of whether misconduct is found. This is not the case in California.”
“Right now, there is a tremendous cloud of secrecy that is unparalleled compared to many other states,” Smith added. “California is in the minority in which the public do not know basic information when someone is killed or potentially harmed by those are sworn to serve and protect them.”
In February, Sen. Mark Leno, a Democrat from San Francisco, introduced SB 1286, the “Enhance Community Oversight on Police Misconduct and Serious Uses of Force” bill. It would have allowed “public access to investigations, findings and discipline information on serious uses of force by police” and would have increased transparency in other cases of police misconduct, according to an ACLU fact sheet. Polling data cited by the ACLU suggests about 80 percent of Californians would support the measure.
But the bill’s progress through the legislature ended on May 27, when it failed to pass out of the Senate Appropriations committee.
“Today is a sad day for transparency, accountability, and justice in California,” said Peter Bibring, police practices director for the ACLU of California, in a May 27 press release.
In addition to the ACLU of California, NGO supporters of the bill included the California Newspaper Publishers Association, Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice (CURYJ), PICO California, a faith-based organizing coalition, and the Youth Justice Coalition.
“Last year, 211 people were killed by police in California – more than in any other state – yet state law will continue to shield from public view the full findings of investigations into each and every one of these and all future killings,” Bibring lamented in the release.
Mar Velez, CURYJ’s policy and organizing campaign manager, added: “The committee’s decision is a slap in the face to the victims of police violence and brutality.”
“One of the greatest disadvantages communities have when seeking justice in the face of officer misconduct and police brutality is access to information. While bad-acting police personnel enjoy an exorbitant amount of secrecy, communities are left in the dark.”
In recent years, movements like Black Lives Matter have demanded greater accountability in police misconduct, but the wheels of change don’t seem to be moving accordingly. Alice Huffman, president of the California NAACP, criticized the slow pace of progress in a statement provided to The Sacramento Bee in February:
“We are still at the back of the bus in areas of criminal justice. Every day we are still being victimized. Police misconduct and racial injustice is at an all-time high in our country and one has to wonder just what did the civil rights movement accomplish.”
Smith called it “a huge tragedy,” lamenting that state residents would have to wait until next year, when lawmakers will have another chance to pass a similar measure.
“Hopefully the legislature will take necessary steps to address community concerns about policing in the near future,” he concluded.
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