You might think this letter from Caroline Banuelos and Robert Edmonds would merit some discussion or at least mention in the local daily newspaper monopoly, and you’d be right. It just hasn’t happened yet.
As Chair and Vice Chair of the Sonoma County Community and Local Law Enforcement Task Force (CALLE), we are very proud of the recommendations crafted by CALLE over the last sixteen months and presented in this report. The Task Force worked diligently to educate ourselves about the culture of community and law enforcement relations, and about the existing framework of laws, policies, procedures, training and attitudes that pertain to the practices, administration, and oversight of law enforcement personnel. What quickly became clear in our work, especially in regards to an accountability model, is that current California law pertaining to law enforcement personnel inhibits the formation of many important aspects of civilian law enforcement oversight that would begin to provide the greatest possible transparency and accountability for sworn law enforcement personnel.
The California Supreme Court Copley Press v. Superior Court decision in 2006 effectively changed California Penal Code section 832.7, so that all independent oversight agencies, such as civilian review boards, oversight panels, and civil service commissions, must now cloak all officer records and findings of misconduct in strict confidentiality, as had previously been the practice only for employing agencies. Now, any independent investigation that would yield specific information about officer misconduct and patterns is stifled, and must come through an internal law enforcement investigation, or through complicated legal motions approved by a judge. Even then, information about specific officers is still exempt from public scrutiny, except when there is a conviction. Legislative attempts in 2007 to address such an unprecedented level of police secrecy (still the strictest in the U.S.) with SB 1019 were met with tremendous outcry, and quashed by well-funded, organized law enforcement labor and lobbying organizations. California Peace Officers now have greater privacy/transparency protections than the public at-large and of any other professional group, including medical, financial and legal professionals.
This year, the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing made sweeping recommendations and calls for action that are much aligned with the work product of our CALLE Task Force. Some of the national recommendations follow here, and we believe, due to the restrictions now enshrined in the Peace Officer Bill of Rights (Government Code Section 3300-3313) and California Penal Code section 832.7., logically support an even stronger oversight body and greater transparency than recommended locally by CALLE.
1.3 RECOMMENDATION: Law enforcement agencies should establish a culture of transparency and accountability in order to build public trust and legitimacy. This will help ensure decision making is understood and in accord with stated policy.
2.2 RECOMMENDATION: Law enforcement agencies should have comprehensive policies on the use of force that include training, investigations, prosecutions, data collection, and information sharing. These policies must be clear, concise, and openly available for public inspection.
2.2.2 ACTION ITEM: These policies should also mandate external and independent criminal investigations in cases of police use of force resulting in death, officer-involved shootings resulting in injury or death, or in-custody deaths.
2.14 RECOMMENDATION: The U.S. Department of Justice, through the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, should partner with the International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training (IADLEST) to expand its National Decertification Index to serve as the National Register of Decertified Officers with the goal of covering all agencies within the United States and its territories. “A national register would effectively treat “police professionals the way states’ licensing laws treat other professionals. If anything, the need for such a system is even more important for law enforcement, as officers have the power to make arrests, perform searches, and use deadly force.”
As community organizers, we have worked in communities adversely impacted by the current legal framework, and have discussed with a wide range of stakeholders, their experiences and perceptions. We have witnessed the deleterious effects of a framework that is inadequate and inequitable to providing stakeholders full information about law enforcement best practices, and including them in decision making processes about the work of enforcement, policy-making, and oversight. We expect that many of our recommendations will begin to address these problems and should be implemented without delay. In addition, while we respect that law enforcement leaders have already begun to improve transparency and relationships with the community, we understand now that even those agencies wanting greater transparency cannot achieve broad and meaningful transparency within the current legal restriction of California’s Codes. This fact is further complicated by the Sheriff and District Attorney’s Offices being constitutionally elected, and thus without obligation to cooperate with external organizations that are bereft of authority to compel specific information and testimony regarding officer conduct, patterns, and internal investigations.
For these reasons, we believe that the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors can help bring meaningful reform to statewide law enforcement transparency, by including this as an issue on the Board’s Legislative Agenda to help influence state legislation. There is currently tremendous public interest at the local, Statewide and national levels to increase accountability of law enforcement agencies and personnel. One of the solutions often mentioned at each level is to increase the oversight and transparency afforded the public, thus helping to reduce implicit structural bias and the perception of bias when the public feels that its rights have been violated, or that there is more to the story than is being told. Communities across the state are organizing and speaking out to state legislators about the need for such reform. We believe that Sonoma County can and should contribute an informed perspective, by bringing your respected voices to the statewide conversation.
Sonoma County Community and Local Law Enforcement Task Force