California police unions push bill on public disclosure in use-of-force cases

California law enforcement unions are pushing a new law they say will increase public disclosure in cases involving police use of force, but the ACLU says the effort does little to peel back the curtain into police investigations of their own conduct.

“I’m glad to see they are recognizing how important transparency is to the community,” said Lizzie Buchen, a legislative advocate for ACLU of California. “I don’t think this bill will address anyone’s concerns about police transparency.”

Assembly Bill 1428 moves through the Capitol as dashboard cameras on patrol cars and cellphone videos continue to draw attention to police actions across the country. A video depicting a Sacramento police officer tackling and beating a man after he allegedly jaywalked and refused to follow commands in Del Paso Heights is among the more recent cases making national headlines.

“Right now it’s a tough time to be a cop anywhere in this country,” said Mike Durant, president of the Peace Officers Research Association of California, an association of 69,000 rank-and-file law enforcement officers and sponsor of the bill. “We at PORAC want to do everything we can to work collectively with our communities to gain the trust back of our citizens and make the streets safer for them and their families.”

Despite the criticism, Durant said his association believes the bill increases transparency. Durant, a detective with Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department, also defended decisions by law enforcement to withhold information related to ongoing cases to avoid skewing public perception and tainting potential jurors.

“Everybody wants to be critical of every single thing we do, but none of them have walked a day in our shoes,” he said. “None of them have had to make a split-second decision in order to keep the community safe.”

The bill, introduced by Assemblyman Evan Low, D-Campbell, builds on existing law to require a department or agency to provide a written update for an ongoing investigation into police conduct to the party that filed the complaint at least every 45 days. The notification only describes the status of the complaint without revealing substantive information related to the case, according to language in the bill.

The legislation calls on police departments to publicly post their rules for investigating complaints by the public, the disciplinary process for officers and quarterly statistics on use-of-force cases.

Buchen of the ACLU says many departments currently provide information about their procedures. Assembly Bill 71, signed in 2015, already requires police agencies to turn over data on use-of-force cases to the Department of Justice, which releases the statistics in an annual report.

County district attorneys would also be required under AB 1428 to report the findings of an officer-involved shooting investigation on the internet within 30 days after the probe concludes. The ACLU contends that these reports back up the district attorney’s conclusion and do not include all of the details of a case.

The bill similarly calls on police agencies to post reports on serious use of force by officers on the internet within 30 days after the investigation ends. Provisions in the bill say the report will include “a general statement describing the incident” and a determination of whether the actions complied with department policy, which Buchen described as helpful and something few agencies currently make public.

The report will not identify the officer involved or the confidential statements made by the officer in a personnel investigation. Lastly, the bill allows police departments to elect to create a mediation process to resolve bias complaints.

The bill is co-sponsored by the California Association of Highway Patrolmen, Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, Los Angeles Police Protective League, Los Angeles Airport Peace Officers’ Association, Riverside Sheriffs’ Association and the Los Angeles Deputy Probation Officers Union.

AB 1428 is scheduled for a hearing in the Assembly Public Safety committee on Tuesday.

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