On Tuesday, April 19, David E. Mastagni testified before the California Assembly against AB 2557, created by California State Representative, Mia Bonta. This appointed bill would make all law enforcement personal records public in any agency where a civilian oversight board has access to citizen complaint investigations, regardless of the nature of the allegations or whether they were sustained. The bill claims it would make police officers more accountable, however, the bill is not taking into account the risk of defamation, ridicule and harassment for innocent police officers due to the timing of released information before the officer is cleared.
Although intended to create more transparency regarding law enforcement misconduct, AB 2557 would undo the more balanced approach of Sen. Skinner in SB 1421 and 16. PORAC and other law enforcement stakeholders worked with Sen. Skinner so that under current legislation disciplinary investigations and records are only disclosed if serious misconduct has been sustained after opportunity for appeal. AB 2557 would discard this legislative work and convert all personnel records, including investigations of disproven allegations and or minor misconduct, to public records in any jurisdiction with civilian oversight of the police disciplinary investigations.
Civilian review boards depend upon access to the Internal Affairs investigations granted by the employing agency. They typically do not have the resources or staffing to conduct completely independent investigations. The citizen review board’s right to investigate, make findings and recommendations all exist through their nexus to the employing Agency, as the court’s have held. This Bill also seeks to expressly overturn Supreme Court precedent on personnel records.
For example, Sacramento’s Office of Public Safety Accountability (OPSA) has full access to every complaint received and investigated by IA, not just complaints OPSA receives. They review the findings and advise the department if they agree. OPSA then releases an annual report with summaries without names. AB 2557 would make all of those investigations public records.
Moreover, since the law allow police agencies one year or in some cases more to complete investigations after receiving a complaint, under this Bill false, but still stigmatizing allegations would be disclosed several months before the prior to the completion of the investigation. Innocent officers would have their names tarnished and become subject to ridicule and harassment, even if ultimately cleared. This bill would usurp the balanced approach fashioned by Senator Skinner between the public’s need to know about serious misconduct and officers’ right to privacy, particularly as to unproven but still stigmatizing allegations.
The Bill is also unnecessary, as Civilian review board findings, recommendations and investigations are already public records under S.B. 1421 and S.B. 16, where they involve sustained allegations of serious misconduct.
Civilian review of the disciplinary process is important to maintain public confidence in law enforcement. Ironically, this Bill would likely harm transparency and public trust civilian review is intended to create by incentivizing agencies to block civilian oversight outright or severely limit access to Internal Affairs investigations.
Several members of the Public safety committee echoed the concerns raised by Mr. Mastagni, particularly as to the disclosure of unproven allegations. AB 2557 passed by the California Assembly on April 19 with a 5-2 vote, with a motion to be re-referred to the Judiciary Committee. However, two of the Democratic votes to move the Bill forward to the Judiciary Committee expressed opposition to the Bill as drafted on a floor vote.