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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 families."

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.

Mark Schlosberg




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