New Bill Will Finally Give Citizens Public Access to Police Misconduct Investigations

Nick Cahill | Courthouse News Service

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – A California state senator has introduced a bill to allow public access of police misconduct investigations and officer-involved shooting records.

Aiming to increase trust between Californians and law enforcement through the proposal, state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, said Friday that California is “behind the times” and needs to shine the light on police shootings.

“The public has a right to know when officers apply deadly force and when serious cases of misconduct have been confirmed,” Leno said in a statement.

“Failing to disclose such important information can fuel mistrust within our communities and threaten public safety.”

Senate Bill 1286 would align California with other states like Texas and Utah, and give the public information surrounding a confirmed case of officer misconduct.

Under the bill, if a law enforcement agency disciplines an officer, information from the investigation will be made public.

Currently, California law enforcement personnel and disciplinary records are confidential.

The San Francisco lawmaker’s proposal comes after a fatal shooting in December by five officers with the San Francisco Police Department.

Cellphone video captured police officers firing a storm of bullets into 26-year-old Mario Woods while he appeared to be backing up toward a garage door.

The officers said Woods, who was black, was a suspect in a nearby stabbing and refused orders to drop a kitchen knife they claim he was holding.

The officers used pepper spray and bean bags before they shot Woods 21 times, including six times in the back.

Last March, records from a federal investigation revealed 14 San Francisco Police officers had sent sending racist and homophobic text messages in 2011 and 2012.

The messages referred to African Americans as “monkeys” and “half-breeds.”

The scandals have caused San Francisco officials to revamp police methods, including a new policy requiring officers to only shoot two rounds at a time.

Leno’s bill quickly drew the support of San Francisco officials, including the police department.

“Being transparent with the public about proven misconduct of our officers, not mere allegations or claims, is not only in step with modern policing, but it demonstrates a level of respect and openness for our community and their right to know who is serving them,” San Francisco Police Commissioner Julius Turman said in a statement.

SB 1286 supporters also include the American Civil Liberties Union of California, the NAACP, the California Public Defenders Association and the Conference of California Bar Associations.

If passed, the legislation would allow residents that allege police misconduct to access misconduct records involving the accused officer.

It will also give local governments the option of holding public hearings on appeals in misconduct cases, and allow courts to withhold records if there is danger to an officer.

Published by Courthouse News Service.