On January 1st, a new law went into effect in California. This law came about through an outcry from the citizens regarding the hiding of police records from the public. When an officer is involved in an incident, quite frequently the public is not allowed to ever get the internal investigation records. If the incident was prominent in the news then the public at least knows it happened. However, the majority of the cases never make it into the public realm and since law enforcement agencies hide their investigations of officers, the public never finds out something happened.
This is the situation that SB 1421, which was passed in California, was supposed to address. It was supposed to bring in a new level of transparency within law enforcement to help people to regain trust in the agencies who have so much power over them. It is supposed to require the release of investigation reports, when requested, pertaining to the following situations: discharge of a firearm at a person; use of force against a person that results in death or great bodily injury; a sustained finding that an officer has engaged in sexual assault involving a member of the public; and a sustained finding of dishonesty. (Click here for more information about SB1421 and AB 748).
There was never any doubt that these disclosure laws would be resisted. Law enforcement has benefited from being able to hide their transgressions. They’re not going to go down without a fight. One of the biggest issues is coming from the California Highway Patrol. They have not released a single document. They are the state agency, the highest in the hierarchy of law enforcement in the state, they should be setting the tone for everyone else. Instead, they have chosen to ignore the law. Other agencies are shredding documents and charging ridiculously high fees to produce them. All kinds of hurdles are being placed in the way to keep the general public from finding out about bad cops.
But California has set a precedent. Other states will likely follow with their own disclosure laws. People have had enough. They expect a higher level of accountability from law enforcement and it would be in the best interest of every law enforcement agency out there to realize this and start moving towards a process that is fair and transparent.
For more information, you can read the Desert Sun article here.