EDITORIAL On April 17 the full weight of the state's secrecy lobby and police unions descended on Sacramento to prevent the public from having any access to the records of peace officers who have faced disciplinary charges. The tactics were brutal: Everett Bobbitt, a police lawyer, testified to the Assembly Public Safety Committee that allowing any sunshine whatsoever would instantly threaten the lives of hardworking cops and their families.
His argument was bizarre, reminiscent of some of the tortured claims that the Bush administration made in seeking support for the war in Iraq and the civil liberties fiasco called the USA PATRIOT Act. He suggested that criminal gangs might find out something that would allow them to threaten police officers (despite the fact that until a recent court decision these records had been open for more than 20 years in San Francisco and 30 in Berkeley, and not a single cop had been in any way physically harmed by the information). He claimed that peace officers have an extraordinary right to privacy (despite the fact that as public employees who are given guns and badges and extraordinary powers, they need at least some degree of public accountability).
And the committee, despite being dominated by Democrats, was utterly cowed. It was a disgrace, and public officials and law enforcement leaders in San Francisco and the East Bay need to make a point of joining the fight to ensure that police secrecy doesn't continue to carry the day.
At issue was a bill by Assemblymember Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) that would overturn an odious 2006 court decision known as Copley. In that ruling, the California Supreme Court concluded that all files and hearings reutf8g to police discipline must be kept entirely secret. The ruling "has effectively shut down virtually every forum in which the public previously had access to the police discipline process," Tom Newton, general counsel to the California Newspaper Publishers Association, wrote in a letter supporting Leno's bill, AB 1648.
Newton added, "Copley represents nothing less than complete and total victory for the secrecy lobby in this state. In the ultimate perversion of legislative intent, the most powerful forces in government and their exceptionally creative and effective lobbyists have achieved a perfect storm of official secrecy - making it illegal to inform the public about official corruption.... These aren't just any public employees that have achieved the holy grail of KGB-like official secrecy - they are the only public officials given the right by the public to affect the personal liberty of citizens and even take life, if necessary to protect the public peace."
Leno's bill - which would simply restore the law to what it was for decades - had the support of the American Civil Liberties Union and a long list of grassroots organizations, including the Asian Law Caucus, Chinese for Affirmative Action, La Raza Centro Legal, the NAACP, and the National Black Police Association.
And yet Leno didn't have the votes in the committee to even move the bill to the floor. Not one of his four Democratic colleagues (Jose Solorio of Anaheim, Hector de la Torre of South Gate, Anthony J. Portantino of Pasadena, and San Francisco's Fiona Ma) was willing to move the bill forward.
Most Commented On
- There was too much - May 25, 2013
- You've missed the point. No - May 25, 2013
- Street music - May 24, 2013
- Also in our club is a lawyer - May 24, 2013
- The very definition of risk - May 24, 2013
- I'm not the one who left that - May 24, 2013
- No one ever said the landlord - May 24, 2013
- The entire idea that moving - May 24, 2013
- Yes, I can. RC isn't going - May 24, 2013
- Except that I can afford it. - May 24, 2013