SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The administration of California Governor Gavin Newsom has proposed ending public disclosure of investigations into abusive and corrupt police officers, instead handing responsibility to local agencies in a bid to help cover an estimated budget shortfall. $31.5 billion.
The proposal, part of the governor’s budget package he is still negotiating with the Legislative Assembly, has drawn strong criticism from a coalition of criminal justice and press freedom groups, which has spent years of pushing for disclosure rules that were part of a landmark law signed by Newsom. in 2021.
The law allows the state Commission on Standards and Training of Peace Officers to investigate and remove police officers for misconduct, such as excessive use of force, sexual assault and dishonesty. It obliges the commission to make public the files of the cases of decertification.
The Newsom administration now wants to get rid of this element of transparency. The commission says the public could still get records from police departments. But advocates say local police departments often resist releasing such information.
A number of states with a police decertification process, including Republican-led ones such as Tennessee and Georgia, require state agencies to disclose cases of police misconduct.
In Tennessee, records made available through the demand provided a wealth of new details about the actions of police officers when they brutally beat Tire Nichols, a black man, during a traffic stop earlier this year. Those details, released by the state police certification board, had not previously been made public by the local police department.
“It is a slap in the face to family members who have had their loved ones robbed that … a key provision of the decertification process is not being honored,” J Vasquez, of social justice group Communities United For Restorative Justice, said. at a press conference last week.
Removing the transparency element from the 2021 law would continue to erode public trust, Antioch Mayor Pro Tem Tamisha Torres-Walker said. The city, 45 miles (72 kilometers) east of San Francisco, has been rocked after a federal investigation found more than half of Antioch Police officers were in a group text where some Officers freely used racial slurs and bragged about fabricating evidence and beating suspects.
“To say, ‘Go to the very people who are committing the crimes against your community and ask them to come forward to you so you can hold them accountable,’ I don’t think is a fair process,” Torres said. Walker.
The coalition of more than 20 groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, also accused the Democratic governor of abusing the budget process to push through his proposal presented in April.
Carmen-Nicole Cox, government affairs director for ACLU California Action, said Newsom’s proposal should have gone through the traditional legislative process, instead of being on the budget.
Democratic Senator Steven Bradford, author of the landmark 2021 bill, declined to comment on the proposed change.
The governor’s office referred questions to the commission, whose spokesperson said the proposed change is a cost-saving measure that would still allow the public to access information about decertification cases from local police departments. . California faces a nearly $32 billion budget deficit this year after enjoying several years of record surpluses and the proposal is one of several cost-cutting measures by Newsom.
Neither the governor’s office nor the commission shared how much money the state could save under the proposal.
According to a May budget request, the commission estimated that it would process up to 3,500 decertification cases each year. That’s about 4% of all officers in California. The commission, which has suspended or decertified 44 police officers so far this year, has requested an additional $6 million to deal with the large number of complaints.
“Due to the substantial budget implications, as well as the need to urgently implement these cost-saving measures into law, the budget process is the most appropriate route for this,” the spokeswoman said. commission, Meagan Poulos, in a statement.
For decades, police officers in California have enjoyed layers of legal protections that help shield most law enforcement misconduct records from public scrutiny, First Amendment Coalition legal director David Loy said. .
In 2018, things started to change after the Legislative Assembly passed a bill requiring the disclosure of records relating to police misconduct, including the use of excessive force, sexual assault and dishonesty. This law was expanded in 2021 to include the publication of investigations into racist or biased behavior by the police, unlawful searches or arrests and the use of unreasonable force.
The 2021 Decertification Act has been hailed as another mechanism to hold law enforcement to account.
“California has always been a black hole for police transparency,” said Loy, whose group is part of the coalition opposing the change. “The last thing California should do is take a step back on police transparency.”
The state Legislature on Thursday passed its own version of the state budget to meet its deadline without including Newsom’s proposed change to the decertification process. Legislative leaders and the governor’s office will continue negotiations to finalize the budget by the end of the month.
Associated Press reporter Jonathan Mattise contributed from Nashville, Tennessee.