SACRAMENTO, Calif — Senator Steve Bradford authored SB 2 in 2021 to ensure officers that are found of wrongdoing can’t work for another law enforcement agency.
"This is a way to build public trust and restore confidence in the community that law enforcement will be held accountable for those criminal acts that they commit on civilians," Bradford said in 2021.
Governor Gavin Newsom then signed the bill in an emotional ceremony.
“I know how hard this is,” Newsom said to a crying mother as he signed the bill.
Now, the governor's administration is trying to exempt the commission in charge of the decertification process, known as POST, from sharing information about the bad cops with the public.
Lawmakers didn’t introduce a bill to make this happen. Newsom's administration is doing this through the budget process.
A 2023-24 budget trailer bill contains language saying POST is not required to disclose personnel and background investigation files. In short, exempting it from the Public Records Act.
Right now, if you go on POSTS website, you’ll see a list of names of officers who either lost their certification or are suspended, with a short explanation why. Sometimes the explanation is just one word like "dishonesty."
“Openness, transparency and accountability are the first duty of democratic government," Legal Director of First Amendment Coalition David Loy said. "That is the first job of the government, not the last, and the public has a compelling right to know, the public has a constitutional right in California to access public information."
In a statement, POST said the public can still seek this information on the local level.
"The Trailer Bill Language does not limit or exempt the public from seeking access to records; it instead channels those requests to the most appropriate agencies," POST Public Information Officer Meagan Poulos said. "The law enforcement agencies that conduct investigations and compile such materials have an independent obligation under existing law to respond to any Public Records Act request. Importantly, the burden of review, redaction, and production of such reports more properly lies with the local agency that created the report and is the custodian of the records."
So what's the argument for making the state provide these records, not just local departments?
“If POST has collected these records, and you as a member of the press or anyone as a member of the public wants to inquire into patterns of officer misconduct up and down the state, it's much more efficient and effective from the standpoint of the press and public to obtain those records from a single source, which has collected them from around the state instead of contact 58 counties,” Loy said.
McGeorge School of Law Adjunct Professor Chris Micheli says it’s wrong to try to change this policy through the budget.
“I think that we are seeing more and more laws being enacted through the budget process under the auspices of some sort of fiscal implication instead of going through the regular public policy process," Micheli said. "I think that this particular proposed exemption is definitely one that should go through the legislative process because I would think that the legislature views it in a contrary manner.”
Assemblymember Mia Bonta who chairs Budget Sub-Committee #5 sent a statement saying:
“Budget negations with the Senate and the Administration are ongoing, which includes trailer bill proposals. There are a number of outstanding issues that we have yet to reach an agreement on. We approved placeholder language as a signal that additional discussions are required before reaching a final proposal that will later be voted on by the Legislature. This is the action the Assembly Budget Committee plans to approve today.”
If negotiations ultimately lead to this language in the budget, it would go into effect as soon as the budget is passed. The deadline is June 15.
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