Snubbing Devin’s memory: Legislators fail to learn the lessons of a 13-year-old’s fatal shooting by police.
Today we award Badges of Cowardice to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Police Chief Bill Bratton, and six key state lawmakers, for failing to stand up to California’s powerful police unions and take the first baby steps toward reopening police disciplinary records and proceedings that had been public since at least the 1970s.
Our L.A. leaders, along with the six-member Assembly Public Safety Committee, cowered in the face of cop bully-tactics and the secrecy lobby that brought down a modest bill to reopen public access to what had been an historically open process.
We give extra large, doublesided badges to the mayor and police chief because they are trying to have it both ways. They professed to be in favor of State Sen. Gloria Romero’s SB 1019, dubbed here the Anti-Secret Police bill, but they failed to show up at Tuesday’s committee meeting and fight for its survival.
Come on, guys, don’t you remember how adamant you seemed on the issue when an enraged community demanded answers after a secret police Board of Rights hearing exonerated the police officer who fatally shot 13-year-old Devin Brown? Look what Antonio and Bill told the L.A. Times’ Patrick McGreevy in January, when the issue was hot and the public demanded action.
“I am in support of change. I am very frustrated by [the current process],” Bratton said… “The public has no access to it. The media has no access to it. That’s crazy, absolutely crazy. We have nothing to hide in the Los Angeles Police Department.”
Hours later, Villaraigosa issued a concurring statement .
“The mayor would enthusiastically support legislation or other measures to open the board of rights process to the public,” the statement said. “Transparency … would benefit both the public and the officers facing disciplinary action.”
But that was six months ago. Will there be a similar outcry when the results of secret investigations into the MacArthur Park melee are released? Let’s hope the chief doesn’t black out the names of officers disciplined and withhold key details. And, if voters grow restless and the chief and mayor renew their calls for reform, will we take them seriously?
By the time the Anti-Secret Police bill made it to the committee, the unions watered down the bill to mollify cops and win the so-called support of Bill and Antonio. The bill even gave the police chief the power to withhold records if he deemed an officer’s safety would be put at risk.
The bill would merely allow local governments to vote on whether to restore public access to the same narrow category of police disciplinary records and proceedings that had been open in Los Angeles, San Diego, and the Bay Area for decades until the California Supreme Court closed the records in its intellectually dishonest and unintelligible decision last year, Copley Press v. Superior Court of San Diego. In that decision, the Supreme Court held that California’s statutes aimed at controlling the discovery of police personnel records in civil lawsuits prohibits the disclosure of records that arise from the officer’s administrative appeal to an oversight body such as a civil service commission. Police agencies, taking the decision one more step, said if the records were off-limits to the public, so must be the proceedings.
The bill failed to win a solitary vote in the Assembly Public Safety Committee after passing out of the Senate a few weeks ago. The Los Angeles Police Protective League (LAPD’s cop labor union), a representative of Orange County Sheriff Michael S. Carona, and Assemblyman Jose Solorio, a Santa Ana Democrat and chairman of the Assembly Public Safety Committee, all made the same bogus claim that the bill would have opened up personal information about police officers and their families to criminals and “endangered” the lives of officers and their families.
Antonio and Bill were nowhere to be seen in Sacramento Tuesday to counter this false alarm. If they had truly “supported” the bill, they would have flown to Sacramento and explained that this process has been open to the public for decades in Los Angeles without any reported endangerment of officer safety. If our leaders actually backed the bill, they would have explained that no information about an officer’s family is released in disciplinary records.
Rather, the Anti-Secret Police measure would have allowed local agencies to vote on whether to create a policy of public access to police officer disciplinary files – but only if the local agency had previously had open records and only in instances where an officer had filed an administrative appeal of their discipline with a local civil service commission or police board of rights. If the local agency adopted the access policy, then the only records available to the public would be the records filed with the civil service commission or police board of rights relating to the specific incident and discipline. Like why should that be such a big deal?
The unions built their propaganda campaign on lies and threats. Under the Anti-Secret Police bill, a police agency would not have been allowed to release a police officer’s entire personnel file, home address, or medical records. Nor would the bill allow a police agency to release all citizen complaints or internal affairs investigations. Rather, public access would have been allowed only after a police officer filed an administrative appeal of a particular disciplinary sanction with an oversight body.
One union leader, John Stites, sent an e-mail to intimidate Senate members before their vote on the measure, saying that police unions “adamantly oppose this legislation to the point that if it is passed we will move quickly to oppose any term-limit reform legislation publicly. There is no compromise on this. Ensure that it be understood that this will only be the beginning.” Romero denounced this “bully tactic” and the Senate approved the bill, 22-10 earlier this month.
Also receiving Badges of Cowardice are the members of the Public Safety Committee. These scared legislators wouldn’t even let the measure come up for a vote. They are:
Two Republicans: Joel Anderson of El Cajon and Greg Aghazarian, Stockton
Four Democrats: Chairman Jose Solorio of Santa Ana, Anthony J. Portantino of La Canada, Hector De La Torre of South Gate, Fiona Ma of San Francisco