Transparency about crimes committed—SB 1421 would apply that principle to police officers

If a California public employee is found by an agency investigation to have a committed a crime, the results are public record. That makes sense. While due process rights must always be protected, most public employees found guilty are not protected from public scrutiny.

In 27 states, some form of transparency when they are found to have committed crimes also applies to police officers who are, after all, public servants. This is not the case in California.

California’s state law keeps the results of investigations and discipline of police officers secret, even in the case of deadly shootings, sexual assault, or cases of planting evidence.

Senate Bill 1421, introduced by Sen. Nancy Skinner, would change this. If it becomes law, the public would have access to the findings of police investigations and the right to know the discipline meted out in cases relating to “deadly and serious uses of force,” sexual assault against a civilian, and proven dishonesty in an investigation such as perjury and planting or destroying evidence.

CFA is a co-sponsor of SB 1421 along with the American Civil Liberties Union, Black Lives Matter, and other youth and community groups.

“CFA is supporting SB 1421 not only because we believe in transparency and good government, but because as an anti-racist organization, we want to ensure real public safety for our faculty, staff, and students of color,” explains CFA President Jennifer Eagan. “You can’t work or learn when you’re afraid, and it’s not fair for women and people of color to live in fear of the people entrusted to protect them.”

Police organizations, including police officer unions, reportedly are looking at the bill; they are likely to oppose it as they have done in the case of similar bills in the past.

Cecil Canton, CFA Associate Vice President-Affirmative Action and a criminal justice professor at CSU Sacramento, said, “That law enforcement is dangerous work filled with uncertainty is not in question here. As a former law enforcement officer, I know it quite well.”

He adds, “But we need a great deal more openness about what is going on in police departments, like the one here in Sacramento, that lead to black adults and children getting shot as often as they do, guilty or innocent, no matter the offense. Covering up the facts of crime is unjust, and without justice there will be no trust and no peace in our communities.”

See a Community Fact Sheet about SB 1421

See all the bills on CFA’s 2018 Legislative Agenda