Capitol Alert

California bill would open access to police misconduct records

Students in San Francisco protest police brutality on Dec. 11, 2015, a week after the killing of Mario Woods, the knife-wielding stabbing suspect who was fatally shot by San Francisco police.
Students in San Francisco protest police brutality on Dec. 11, 2015, a week after the killing of Mario Woods, the knife-wielding stabbing suspect who was fatally shot by San Francisco police. San Francisco Examiner

Investigations into police shootings and other serious uses of force by law enforcement in California would be made public under new legislation.

Senate Bill 1286, announced Friday by state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, would also open access to findings of officer misconduct or job-related dishonesty. Law enforcement personnel records are strictly protected in California.

“The public has a right to know when officers apply deadly force and when serious cases of misconduct have been confirmed,” Leno said in a statement. “Failing to disclose such important information can fuel mistrust within our communities and threaten public safety.”

The proposal comes amid national unrest over a string of racially-charged officer-involved deaths, including the cases of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York, where no charges were filed despite massive public protests.

Supporters of SB 1286, including the American Civil Liberties Union, argue the bill would hold law enforcement agencies accountable for the types of behavior they consider policy and how they discipline their employees. More than a dozen states, including Florida, Ohio and Washington, already make similar information public, according to Leno’s office.

“We are still at the back of the bus in areas of criminal justice” Alice Huffman, president of the California NAACP, said in a statement. “Every day we are still being victimized. Police misconduct and racial injustice is at an all-time high in our country and one has to wonder just what did the civil rights movement accomplish.”

SB 1286 would also allow local governments to hold public hearings on allegations of police misconduct, and would guarantee that residents who file complaints have access to information about their investigation, regardless of the outcome.

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff

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