Police Unions Flex Political Muscle
Public Safety Committee Hides
By Mark Schlosberg,
Special to Fog City Journal
June 29, 2007
Over a hundred police union representatives descended on the
Assembly Public Safety Committee on Tuesday, June 26 to urge opposition
to Sen. Gloria Romero's SB 1019, the bill which would overturn
the Supreme Court's decision in Copley Press and provide
limited access to information about police misconduct complaints.
Rather than challenge the unsubstantiated claims by the police
associations that the bill would somehow impact the safety of
the police and stand up for transparency, when Senator Romero
asked for a vote, committee members sat silently and therefore
no vote was taken on the bill.
The hearing began with powerful testimony from SB 1019 proponents
who highlighted the strong public interest in restoring openness
and transparency around police complaints - processes that had
been in place upwards of 30 years in some places prior to the
Copley Press decision. After Senator Romero introduced
the bill, the first three witnesses - Tom Newton from the California
Newspaper Publishers Association, Newark Police Chief Ray Samuels,
and Michael Gennaco, a former federal prosecutor and Director
of the Office of Independent Review for the Los Angeles Sheriff
Department - spoke eloquently about the need for public access
to good police-community relations and public trust.
They were followed by United Farm Workers Co-Founder Dolores
Huerta, who recounted the beating she received at the hands of
the San Francisco Police in the late 1980s, and Letica Rodriguez,
whose daughter was a bystander, killed in a high-speed chase.
Their testimony was riveting and the audience listened attentively
to their testimony, hanging on every word..
Unfortunately, most committee members were non-responsive to
their stories and those who did speak, gave only lip service to
their concerns. Instead, committee members sided with the phalanx
of police union lobbyists who repeated their mantra of the day:
"SB 1019 will endanger officer safety and the safety of their
This assertion - repeated by dozens of police union reps - was
completely unchallenged by even a single member of the committee,
including Assemblywoman Fiona Ma. Not a single Assembly member
pointed out the obvious: that in the over 30 years of public oversight
in California, there is not a single example of a police officer
being physically harmed because of the public release of information
about misconduct complaints and discipline. The vast majority
of other states release more information to the public than California
and the police associations have also failed to provide any similar
examples from those states as well. The bill also has specific
provisions that allow information to remain confidential where
there are officer safety concerns.
After the testimony was over, Assemblywoman Ma and Chair Jose
Solorio made some statements about concerns they had with the
current legislation. Their concerns, however, were all over the
map and neither Ma nor Solorio put forward any suggestion about
how the bill could be changed to meet their concerns. Solorio,
for example, lamented the fact that the bill did not provide for
statewide standards and allowed for choice a local level. However,
Solorio also refused to support legislation previously introduced
by Assemblyman Mark Leno that would have done just that.
Following these comments, Senator Romero asked the committee
for an up or down vote on the bill. Members avoided going on the
record with a vote and SB 1019 is now being held in committee.
While Senator Romero has requested the bill be reheard on July
3, Chair Solorio has refused to schedule the matter. The bill
is effectively in limbo.
San Francisco has loudly and broadly supported SB 1019. It is
supported by a unanimous Police Commission, a super-majority on
the Board of Supervisors, The Democratic County Central Committee,
Sheriff Michael Hennessey, Public Defender Jeff Adachi, Assemblyman
Mark Leno, and Senators Carole Migden and Leland Yee.
Assemblywoman Ma, who, like other committee members, did not
call for a vote on the bill, claimed that she had concerns about
the legislation, but also expressed concern about the current
state of affairs. If she is really interested in moving toward
greater openness and transparency, she should at least vote the
measure out of committee and urge that her concerns be addressed
prior to a floor vote. By staying silent, Ma showed support for
the police union lobby over the interest of San Franciscans.
Tell Fiona Ma that transparency and accountability are San Francisco
values, result in better policing and make everyone safer. You
can call her office at (916) 319-2012 and urge her to support
SB 1019 and call on Chair Solorio to allow a vote on SB 1019.
Mark Schlosberg is the Police Practices Policy Director of
the ACLU of Northern California. To learn more about SB 1019,
visit the ACLU's website at www.aclunc.org.