Transparency and Police Accountability

Bills Move Forward

With pressure for more transparency, law enforcement agencies consider a handful of police reform bills aimed at increasing police accountability.

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Legislation

California lawmakers move forward with police reform bills, penalties for racially motivated 911 calls

A slew of criminal justice reform bills passed the Senate Public Safety Committee on Friday, [Aug. 7] and if they are signed into law, police throughout California will no longer be able to use chokeholds or rubber bullets and tear gas. They will also have to intervene if they see a fellow officer committing misconduct.

In addition, legislators approved a bill by Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Huntington Park) that would establish criminal penalties for anyone who calls 911 in order to harass Black people or any other members of a protected class.

Legislators greenlighted AB 1196 by Assemblymember Mike Gipson (D-Gardena), which would bar police from using chokeholds or any other action that would cause a person to asphyxiate.

In addition, legislators OK’d AB 1022 by Assemblymember Chris Holden (D- San Gabriel Valley), which would establish clear guidelines for police responsibility and accountability when witnessing excessive force by another member of law enforcement. In addition to requiring officers to physically stop the excessive use of force, the bill would require police officers to record and report the incident in real-time to dispatch or the watch commander on duty in order to establish that officer has attempted to intervene. The bill would also prevent retaliation against officers who report violations of law of another officer to a supervisor and require that an officer who fails to intercede be disciplined in the same manner as the officer who used excessive force.

“We were outraged when we watched the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer from a knee to the neck,” Holden said. “Equally disturbing, was the lack of intervention from the police officers who witnessed a clear use of excessive force.”

Earlier this week, the Assembly Public Safety Committee approved SB 776, authored by Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), which will expand and strengthen public access to police misconduct records.

The bills now head to the Senate Appropriations Committee where they will face another hearing. They could be on the governor’s desk as soon as Sept. 1.

Read More | Fox 2 News 

Nevada Assembly passes bills reversing police misconduct protections

Members of the Nevada Assembly voted 25-17 on Tuesday, [Aug. 4] in favor of SB2, a measure that repeals some elements of a 2019 bill that critics say make it difficult to hold police accountable for misconduct.

The measure, which passed the Senate Monday [Aug. 3] on a 13-8 vote, unravels some elements of SB242 — a bill sponsored by Democratic Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro in 2019. That bill expanded a “Peace Officers Bill of Rights” intended to “provide much needed protections for members of law enforcement to successfully do their jobs.”

She said in a presentation to the Assembly that such provisions started emerging in various states’ laws in the 1980s and are “an acknowledgement of our appreciation and gratitude for the wonderful work of our first responders. They also shield our peace officers from unreasonable treatment and accusations by their employer.”

SB242 passed unanimously in the Senate in 2019 and 36-3 in the Assembly in 2019, but has come under significant fire in recent months, especially amid Black Lives Matter protests in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police.

Nobody spoke in favor of the bill on Tuesday, with many activists opposing because they said people affected by police shootings were not involved in its creation and arguing that the measure should fully repeal SB242. Some opponents said the language that remains in the law and grants authority to police unions means officers are still insulated from consequences.

Police interests, however, pushed back against the measure and urged lawmakers not to paint them with the same brush as the Minneapolis police.

Democratic Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno said that while she voted for SB242 in the past, she realized the legislation had unintended consequences and said the Legislature needed to realize when it made a mistake.

Read MoreThe Nevada Independent 

Baltimore Police ask legislature to help bring about police reform, more accountability in the wake of George Floyd

Baltimore Police leaders, citing the death of George Floyd that sparked protests across Maryland and the country, are joining a chorus of voices lobbying for substantial changes in how police officers in Maryland are investigated and held accountable for misconduct.

Baltimore’s leadership is asking lawmakers to change the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights, a decades-old law that grants Maryland police officers the right to due process and protects them against unnecessary investigation or prosecution. But in recent years, many advocates have sought to reform the officers’ bill of rights, which they say has made it more difficult to punish bad police officers and isn’t transparent enough.

A House of Delegates police reform work group heard hours of testimony Thursday [Aug. 6] during an online public hearing in favor of reforming or repealing the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights.

David Rocah, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Maryland, said the law is a “straitjacket” that makes it difficult to discipline police officers. The Maryland Public Information Act, meanwhile, protects the disciplinary records of officers shielded from public scrutiny.

Baltimore’s Police Commissioner Michael Harrison, along with city leaders, is seeking changes that would allow the police commissioner to fire officers charged with felonies and misdemeanors, instead of having to wait until they are convicted. The city made its request in a letter to the state Commission to Restore Trust in Policing, which was formed to look into widespread corruption by the Baltimore Police Gun Trace Task Force, which led to more than a dozen officers being convicted in federal court.

The department wants Harrison to have the ability to fire officers “in the days immediately following a criminal incident, as the chief of the Minneapolis Police Department did last month,” wrote Kristin E. Blumer, a city chief solicitor.

In addition to the ability to quickly terminate, the changes sought by Baltimore would ask the legislature to give officers “a mechanism to petition the law enforcement agency to rehire or reinstate them in the event the criminal charges resulted in a not guilty verdict.”

Read MoreBaltimore Sun

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Litigation

Lawsuit over New York Police Department discipline records highlights the tension between police and oversight agencies

On the heels of protests shining a light on police brutality, law enforcement agencies are under pressure to be more transparent when addressing accusations of bad behavior by their officers.

The issue is running hottest in the nation’s most populous city, where thousands of New York Police Department disciplinary records are up for grabs in a court battle slated to begin later [in August].

 

Recapping the timeline of events

More than 900 police officers need to be interviewed as part of the current backlog of complaints, review board officials said during the public hearing on [Thursday, Aug. 6].

[Fred Davie, chair of the Civilian Complaint Review Board, CCRB] said a plan to interview officers was derailed once the pandemic tightened its grip on the city and the police department, with many officers calling in sick after contracting the virus. Weeks later, an online interview process was developed with the NYPD, but demonstrations over the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis began in New York City, forcing many officers to work overtime while a flood of new complaints came in, Davie said.

The officers then refused to sit down for the interviews, Davie said.

In response, the CCRB scheduled the public hearing for Thursday [Aug. 6] to discuss the lack of cooperation by the officers and vote to add an additional CCRB charge of impeding an investigation, according to the city official. But a day before that public hearing, Shea issued his order, nullifying a need for the hearing.

“Any failure to appear or cooperate with the CCRB without good cause may result in department disciplinary action,” according to the NYPD memo obtained by CNN.

In a statement, the NYPD cited the pandemic as a roadblock for in-person interviews and went on to note that officers have been sitting down for interviews with the department’s own internal investigators who conduct separate probes into accusations of officer misconduct.

The fight over police records is among the battles taking place in cities around the country where there is growing demand for accountability from police departments and a push for independent civilian oversight agencies designed to have a say in police discipline.

Read More | CNN News

Peer Resources

Software Tools All Government Agencies Should Consider for Public Records

Public Records Requests are an important facet of state and local government administrative operations — even if they don’t take up a large portion of your agency’s mindshare on a day-to-day basis. Vital to democracy — they promote effective and efficient government and they preserve the contributions of governments for future generations.

The more modern and efficient your agency’s public records process is, the more time you have to spend on your agency’s true mission. And the straightest path to simplifying your public records request processes and ensuring best practices is to leverage technology.

When 21st-century cloud-based software (like GovQA) replaces your manual public records request processing methods (like spreadsheets, wall calendars, and sharpie marker redactions) as well as on-premise digital solutions (like custom databases residing on computers or servers in-house) — you gain the following benefits.

Read More | GovQA

The Peers in Public Records Newsletter (formerly FOIA News) is a bi-monthly e-newsletter brought to you by GovQA. It is a collection of the latest trends in public record requests and government transparency initiatives, shared stories, informative case studies, and actionable knowledge that will help you calm the chaos and keep your organization compliant. Send your comments to peers@govqa.com.

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