Bad cops walk into the shadows - Page 3

A state Supreme Court ruling keeps the public from accessing records of police misconduct

Pressure on the SFPD to do something about the city's alarming rate of gun violence continues to swell. And few people even want to be a cop anymore, leaving the department chronically understaffed and forcing the city to pay out millions of dollars for overtime expenses.
But bad cops are a fact of life.
More than 70 cases of alleged police misconduct were sustained by the OCC and sent to Police Chief Heather Fong for action last year. Literally hundreds of misconduct cases involving still-incomplete investigations were pending by the end of 2005. The department's own internal affairs arm, which handles additional misconduct probes, sustained 63 cases of misconduct in the second quarter of 2006.
In exchange for receiving a considerable amount of power, cops have always been responsible for maintaining a higher standard of conduct, a fact enshrined in the Police Department's own General Orders.
"Police officers are empowered to deprive other citizens of their freedom when they violate the law," the orders state. "Because they have this power, the public expects, and rightly so, that police officers live up to the highest standards of conduct they enforce among the public generally."
In the 6–1 Copley ruling, Justice Kathryn Werdegar stood alone in her dissent, arguing that "the majority overvalues the deputy's interest in privacy, undervalues the public's interest in disclosure, and ultimately fails to implement the legislature's careful balance of the competing concerns in this area."
The majority opinion, written by Justice Ming Chin, stuck mostly to technical details and argued that the appeals court erred in not defining the San Diego Civil Service Commission as an "employing agency" of the deputy, a key legal distinction.
Ultimately, the convoluted decision seems to beg for clarity from the legislature, but taking on privacy rights for cops could be tantamount to political suicide in Sacramento. One of the state's most powerful lobbying groups, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, would be affected by changes in the law. Bobbitt warned that any attempt by the legislature to toy with the decision would be met with fierce resistance.
"Law enforcement associations will lobby very hard against any changes that would impact this decision," he said.
The view is a little different in San Francisco. Police Commission president Louise Renne — who is hardly known as a bleeding heart liberal — told the Guardian, "I don't think the state Supreme Court made the right decision from a public policy point of view."
For now, at least, six state Supreme Court justices have moved one of local government's most powerful entities deeper into the shadows. SFBG

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