Trust and Transparency

Aaron Read and
Randy Perry

Legislative Advocates

Aaron Read & Associates, LLC

 

Highly anticipated Senate Bill 1286 was heard in the Senate Public Safety Committee on Tuesday, April 12. Hours into the crowded committee hearing, the bill was finally up for discussion. As Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), the author of the bill, presented his case, the audience provided their full attention. “This is not an anti-law-enforcement bill,” the senator said, a statement directed at the fact that police unions and chiefs are ardently opposed to the bill. Leno then started a conversation about trust — a theme that resonates on both sides. It should be noted that Leno did not engender trust when he introduced this bill without any input from law enforcement. 

Law enforcement and the public alike can agree that trust needs to be a focus of the police and the community. High profile police-involved incidents have resulted in fingers being pointed at those wearing a badge. The end result is a topsy-turvy view of who the criminal is, who the victim is and what the new expectations of law enforcement are.  According to Senator Leno, the solution is to allow public access to records relating to charges of serious misconduct, including sexual assault, racial or identity profiling, illegal search or seizure, job-related dishonesty, or legal violation of the rights of a member of the public, as well as any use of force relating to death or serious bodily injury. It would also allow those who file complaints alleging misconduct to access basic information related to the complaint, including whether the complaint was sustained, the factual findings and any discipline imposed or corrective actions taken.

Is this really the solution? PORAC countered Senator Leno’s idea by posing the issue of misplaced anger and the imminent danger to officers. Law enforcement representatives asked the committee if they knew what happened to the officer involved in the Ferguson case. Officer Darren Wilson was found innocent in court. However, his name and address were published, threats were made to his wife and family, and his career in law enforcement is over. SB 1286 simply feeds into mistrust issues rather than responsible communication.

After both sides were heard in the Public Safety Committee, the bill passed on a 5-1 vote, allowing SB 1286 to move on to the Senate Appropriations Committee. This issue has more hearings and is far from over. Law enforcement is listening to the community as we strive for safer streets and are working to find a reasonable solution to this ill-conceived measure. It is not our goal to hide from the public. We want a sensible bill that will enhance public safety, transparency and full accountability without endangering officers who are already responding to dangerous situations. A new measure can be written to responsibly address the concerns raised with SB 1286.

PORAC understands the need for transparency and accountability within our agencies. No one understands better the tenor and tone of working with our community and answering the call for assistance. We want safe streets for every person in California and for those who join this profession in order to protect and serve. Currently, PORAC is promoting the use of body-worn cameras, while urging the Legislature to provide better protections for the privacy rights of Californians whose images are captured or recorded. PORAC proudly participates in the California Attorney General’s new coalition, the 21st Century Policing Working Group, where proposals for better training and community relations have been recommended. We are disappointed that Senator Leno submitted this misguided and overreaching legislation without obtaining any input from PORAC or any other organization representing rank-and-file law enforcement. This is going to be a difficult battle, but PORAC continues the effort to gain the public’s confidence in our officers again.