Bill Would Give Californians Access to Details of Police Abuse Investigations

Supporters say the measure by state Sen. Mark Leno would improve transparency and public trust in law enforcement.

California residents would have access to details of investigations involving wrongdoing by police officers and police shootings under a bill introduced Friday in the state Legislature.

Supporters say the measure by Sen. Mark Leno would improve transparency and public trust in law enforcement and bring California closer to Texas, Florida and other states where the public has more access to such records.

The bill comes in the wake of the fatal San Francisco police shooting of Mario Woods and other police shootings around the country that have sparked protests.

"Officer-involved shootings around the country revealed on video have raised serious concerns," Leno, a San Francisco Democrat, said at a news conference announcing the bill. "Now more than ever, the public's trust in its law enforcement agencies is needed."

Republican Sen. Jim Nielsen of Gerber said Leno's bill singles out police officers and compromises justice by opening up the allegations against them to public opinion.

"What it means is you're going to be in the public domain trying the thing," he said.

California generally blocks public access to any investigations that could be used in disciplinary action against an officer, according to Peter Bibring, director of police practices for the American Civil Liberties Union of California, which is co-sponsoring the bill along with the California Newspaper Publishers Association.

The measure would give the public access to records about charges of serious misconduct against officers only if the claims have been substantiated. It would also open access to records relating to any use of force that causes or is likely to cause death or serious bodily injury.

The bill additionally would allow people who file complaints against police officers to learn any specific findings on which the disposition of the complaint was based and what discipline, if any, was handed down.

Cailin Seva, a spokeswoman for the California Peace Officers Association, said the group had not yet taken an official position on the bill.

But Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones, president of the association's board of directors, said in a statement that complaints against officers are disclosed under current law in appropriate circumstances.

"To require disclosure in every case would be unfair in a process by which an agency is required to take and investigate complaints and its officers have little or no control over any complaint that may be made against him or her," he said.

Leno's office says Texas, Kentucky, Utah and some other states make peace officer records public when a department determines an officer engaged in misconduct. Some other states, including Florida, Ohio and Washington, make the records public regardless of the findings, the office says.

Leno was joined at the news conference by a member of the state conference of the NAACP and San Francisco officials, including District Attorney George Gascon.

Gascon said that during his time as police chief in Mesa, Arizona, he welcomed Arizona's more open police record access laws.

"Not only did it not harm the wellbeing of officers to have an open records policy in Mesa, it actually helped police officers and departments be close to their community," he said.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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