Last week, Governor Jerry Brown signed two bills into law, making records of internal investigations by police officers viewable to the public.
In the past, many internal investigations of officers were held behind a dark curtain. Things such as misuse of force, negligence, lying on duty and sexual assault were all kept under wraps in the name of protecting the public.
With the passing of this legislation, the hope is that those days are numbered.
Senate bill 1421 focuses on giving the public access to internal investigations.
The second measure, Assembly Bill 748, involves releasing police officers body camera footage of officer-involved shootings within 45 days of the incident.
Every day there are more and more incidences of malpractice committed by those who have sworn an oath to protect and serve their communities. We saw this in Ferguson where the Department of Justice had to overhaul their entire police deparment following the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown.
This is not to say that all police officers are the proverbial “bad apples,” but in a career where it is your job to hold a gun and watch out for others, there is no room for misjudgment.
We see these things on the news, such as in Dallas in which a police officer shot a man to death in his own home or in Chicago where another police officer shot a young African-American man 16 times and killed him because he “feared for his life.”
The systemic problems that plague our country’s police departments are not going to go away by themselves. From racially biased traffic stops to sexual assaults, we the public need to know about these instances as soon as possible. You cannot expect people to trust police if they are only getting half the picture.
To a great degree, the main reason why there is an influx of instances of police officers getting caught doing something illegal is that we are in the technological age.
Every person now has a camera in their back pocket, but it shouldn’t be the public’s job to catch these instances. It should be the officials at the top of the totem pole that condemn these atrocities.
Senate bill 1421 has many supporters that believe this it can be a solution to bad policing. By having incriminating evidence at the public’s disposal, there is a better chance that these officers will be held accountable for their actions.
In addition, the passing of this bill will allow for closer examination of convictions from years past.
Lara Bazelon, a professor at the University of San Francisco School of Law, said, “We are going to see a lot of skeletons falling out of the closet dating back years, if not decades. That means people who are convicted unjustly and unfairly will finally get a chance to be heard.
Those against the bill argue that releasing this information to the public before it goes through trial can put police officer’s lives further in danger.
Police officer unions across the state worked to shut down this measure fearing for the safety of these police officers and their families.
This past summer Brendon Tatum, a 15-year-veteran of the Rohnert Park Police Department, lost his job following a history of suspicious busts in which he was the arresting officer. Many complaints were made against him and his practices, so many that he was put on the Brady list.
The Brady list is a list of officers with potential credibility issues maintained by the Sonoma County District Attorney’s Office.
The passing of this bill will allow the public, and more importantly, defense attorneys, to look back into some of these cloudy situations involving Tatum and other officers.
This is just another reason why transparency is the biggest factor with the trust issues between law enforcement and the public.