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Watching the Detectives

[whitespace] New laws pending approval further hinder public scrutiny and prosecution of police misconduct cases

By Cecily Barnes

INSTEAD OF GAINING MORE RIGHTS to information about police, California citizens are losing them. Two bills currently making their way through the Legislature would continue to shield information about police from the public, as well as make it more difficult to find an officer guilty of wrongdoing.

Senate Bill 2210 aims to tighten the seal on police personnel files, protecting notes about disciplinary action taken against officers. These files, already inaccessible to the media and public, would be off limits to the grand jury, district attorney's office and Attorney General's office.

Another bill (AB1236)--which has been publicly opposed by Guerrero-Daley--would require that a police officer be shown any and all notes, reports, complaints or recorded statements accumulated by an investigator before being questioned about a misconduct matter. "I defy you to find any other example of an investigative procedure that would allow the person being investigated a legal, statutory right to see everything in the investigative files," ACLU attorney John Crew says. "It defies common sense. It's the equivalent of playing poker with your cards face up."

AB1236 has already sailed through the Assembly, winning support from Assemblymembers Mike Honda, Liz Figueroa and Elaine Alquist. Honda says he supported the bill because it deals with personnel matters.

"You have to give an officer an even playing field within their own structure," Honda says. "I think the officer has the right to know."

AB1236 needs only approval from the Senate before going into effect.

"The Legislature has pursued a path of setting up one set of rules for cops and another set of rules for the rest of us, or at least the rest of public employees," Crew says. "In the long run, this contributes to a dangerous public perception that law enforcement is not held to the same standards as everyone else."

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From the April 30-May 6, 1998 issue of Metro.

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