Blue Code of Silence to Remain Under California Law

Bill to open up police misconduct records dies in Senate Appropriations committee

SACRAMENTO–Senate Bill 1286, introduced by Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) and coauthored by Senators Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa), and Assemblymember Shirley Weber (D-San Diego), was held in the Senate Appropriations committee today.

SB 1286 would have shined light on how departments handle confirmed instances of officer misconduct and serious uses of force. California, a national leader in upholding and expanding the rights of its residents, is surprisingly one of the most secretive states when it comes to releasing basic information about how departments investigate and address wrongdoing by peace officers, including racial profiling, sexual misconduct, and officer-involved shootings. On the other hand, states like Texas, Kentucky, Utah, and about a dozen others make these records public when a department finds that an officer engaged in misconduct.

“Today is a sad day for transparency, accountability, and justice in California,” said Peter Bibring, police practices director for the ACLU of California. “Last year, 211 people were killed by police in California – more than in any other state – yet state law will continue to shield from public view the full findings of investigations into each and every one of these and all future killings.”

As communities throughout the state and country continue to demand meaningful reforms, focus on community mistrust in current systems of accountability has heightened. A recent Pew Research Center poll found that only 30 percent of Americans and just 10 percent of Black Americans believe that police departments do a good job of holding officers accountable for misconduct.

“The committee’s decision is a slap in the face to the victims of police violence and brutality,” said Mar Velez, policy and organizing campaign manager with CURYJ. “One of the greatest disadvantages communities have when seeking justice in the face of officer misconduct and police brutality is access to information. While bad-acting police personnel enjoy an exorbitant amount of secrecy, communities are left in the dark.”

According to the Washington Post, unarmed Black men are a shocking seven times more likely to be killed by police gunfire than unarmed white men.

SB 1286 would have ensured that:

  • Californians have full access to records of investigations and discipline in police shootings and other serious uses of force by police, and cases where police departments have found that their own officers actually violated the rights of members of the public.
  • Californians who file complaints alleging misconduct were told how the department responded.  If the complaint is rejected, they will be told why. If it is sustained, they will be told what corrective action is taken.
  • Civilian oversight bodies and local governments have access to the police department records they need to carry out their duties, while requiring those agencies to keep records confidential.
  • Officers’ privacy and safety is protected by allowing courts to withhold records if there is a risk or danger to an officer or someone else, or if disclosure would be an unwarranted invasion of officers’ privacy.

SB 1286 was co-sponsored by the ACLU of California, the California Newspaper Publishers Association, CURYJ, PICO California, and the Youth Justice Coalition.