Public Safety, Political, Activist Leaders Praise Passage of New Police Transparency Laws

New laws will allow for public access of police misconduct records and release of police shooting video footage

Published : Monday, October 1, 2018 | 4:44 AM

Pasadena police, political, and community leaders praised the signing Sunday by Governor Jerry Brown of two State bills which will dramatically open up police misconduct records and mandate the release of video footage in controversial police cases to the public.

Pasadena Interim Police Chief John Perez spoke highly of both bills Sunday evening, telling Pasadena Now, “These bills are increasing trust in the police, and are a positive approach to the situation. I think this will help demonstrate how difficult police work is, and how well police do their jobs.”

Pasadena didn’t wait for the bills to pass to take steps towards greater transparency, Perez said.

“We have a balanced policy, and we want to create a narrative for the public, so that they understand what they are watching,” he said. “The public will then understand what police do and how well they do it.”

Pasadena Police officers have been using body-worn cameras for nearly two years now.

Sounding both confident and cautious, Perez said, “We’ll watch and see how it goes, and what the impact is.”

State Assemblymember and former Pasadena City Councilmember and Mayor Chris Holden was equally positive about the passage of both bills, saying, ”We’re entering a new era in which a more thoughtful and inclusive definition of ‘transparency’ is being recognized. It’s not simply having a community meeting as much as it as it making sure from the inside out that a re-evaluation of law enforcement, and how law enforcement interacts with community, is done.”

Recognizing the balance between officer privacy and the public’s right to know, Holden said he knows “this puts on a lot of pressure in terms of officers feeling like they’re more exposed and more vulnerable,”

Overall, he said, the new transparency should promote greater understanding by the public of what police face on the streets and how policing works.

“It is actually liberating in the sense that it puts [police] in a position to be better understood. And for a general public that doesn’t always follow the internal workings of how the police department and policies and procedures operate, I think it creates a little more sunshine to the process, and it makes communities feel a better connection, and ultimately that leads to increased trust.”

The first bill, Senate Bill 1421, will open access to internal investigations of police shootings and other incidents where an officer killed or seriously injured someone. Records would also be available in cases of sexual assault, and lying while on duty.

As the bill itself states, “The California Public Records Act requires a state or local agency, as defined, to make public records available for inspection, subject to certain exceptions. Existing law requires any peace officer or custodial officer personnel records, as defined, and any records maintained by any state or local agency relating to complaints against peace officers and custodial officers, or any information obtained from these records, to be confidential and prohibits the disclosure of those records in any criminal or civil proceeding, except by discovery.

SB 1421 would require that certain peace officer or custodial officer personnel records and records relating to specified incidents, complaints, and investigations involving peace officers and custodial officers be made available for public inspection pursuant to the California Public Records Act.

Records subject to the newly amended law would any of the following:

• An incident involving the discharge of a firearm at a person by a peace officer or custodial officer.

• An incident in which the use of force by a peace officer or custodial officer against a person resulted in death, or in great bodily injury.

• Any record relating to an incident in which a sustained finding was made by any law enforcement agency or oversight agency that a peace officer or custodial officer engaged in sexual assault involving a member of the public.

The bill defines “sexual assault” as” the commission or attempted initiation of a sexual act with a member of the public by means of force, threat, coercion, extortion, offer of leniency or other official favor, or under the color of authority. For purposes of this definition, the propositioning for or commission of any sexual act while on duty is considered a sexual assault.”

The second bill, AB 748, will require departments to release audio or video footage of shootings or other incidents involving serious use of force, within 45 days, “unless it would interfere with an active investigation.”

According to the official California legislative website, the bill, commencing July 1, 2019, “would allow a video or audio recording that relates to a critical incident, as defined, to be withheld for 45 calendar days if disclosure would substantially interfere with an active investigation, subject to extensions, as specified.

“The bill would allow the recording to be withheld if the public interest in withholding video or audio recording clearly outweighs the public interest in disclosure,” said the site, “because the release of the recording would, based on the facts and circumstances depicted in the recording, violate the reasonable expectation of privacy of a subject depicted in the recording, in which case the bill would allow the recording to be redacted to protect that interest.”

Local civil rights attorney and community advocate Dale Gronemeier also reacted positively to the bills.

“The passage of these two bills begins the road to full transparency on the misdeeds of the bad apples in police departments throughout California,” he said. “California has been among the most reactionary states in protecting them.”

Gronemeier added, “The passage of the legislation is a tribute to the growing grassroots mobilizations by reform groups such as Black Lives Matter; while locally, CICCOP ( Coalition for Increased Civilian Oversight of Pasadena Police), POP! (Pasadenans Organizing for Progress), and the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) have worked hard to get this legislation passed.”

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