Activists Vow to Fight for Police Information Bill

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Tuesday July 10, 2007

Despite the crushing defeat of a police misconduct information bill late last month in the Assembly Public Safety Committee, a local American Civil Liberties Union director says that SB1019 is not dead in this Legislature, and “what we have been able to do to bring this bill so far at this point is remarkable.” 

Meanwhile, an official with the Oakland police watchdog organization PUEBLO said that she was “disappointed” in what she called the failure of local Assemblymember Sandré Swanson to actively intervene to support the bill. 

Assemblymember Sandré Swanson “owes his constituents an explanation as to why he buckled under,” said PUEBLO organizer Rashidah Grinage by telephone this week. 

Swanson’s office could not be reached in time to comment for this story. 

State Sen. Gloria Romero’s (D-Los Angeles) SB1019 would restore open police disciplinary hearings in cities and counties throughout California, which were closed to the public earlier this year following the State Supreme Court’s ruling in the Copley v. Superior Court case. Among the cities closing those police hearings were Oakland and Berkeley. 

But last month, in a hearing room which ACLU-Northern California Police Practices Policy Director Mark Schlosberg says was filled with more than 100 police union representatives, members of the Assembly Public Safety Committee refused Romero’s request to bring the bill to a vote. 

“We could have had Mother Theresa come and testify for the bill, there could have been the Second Coming, it wouldn’t have mattered,” Grinage said. “The committee members already had an agreement to sit on the bill. It was a cowardly action. They engineered it so that none of them would have to go on record.” 

“Unfortunately, most committee members were non-responsive,” to the testimony of bill supporters, Schlosberg said in a press statement. “Instead, committee members sided with the phalanx of police union lobbyists who repeated their mantra of the day: ‘SB 1019 will endanger officer safety and the safety of their families.’ This assertion—repeated by dozens of police union reps—was completely unchallenged by even a single member of the committee, including Assemblywoman Fiona Ma. Not a single Assembly member pointed out the obvious: that in the over 30 years of public oversight in California, there is not a single example of a police officer being physically harmed because of the public release of information about misconduct complaints and discipline. The vast majority of other states release more information to the public than California and the police associations have also failed to provide any similar examples from those states as well. The bill also has specific provisions that allow information to remain confidential where there are officer safety concerns.” 

Schlosberg later said by telephone that “any police accountability bill in Sacramento is an uphill fight” because of the power of police unions. “Since before the Rodney King beating, there hasn’t been any major reform in this area that has passed the Legislature and been signed into law.” 

But Schlosberg later said by telephone that “the worst-case scenario in this is a two-year bill. It’s already passed the Senate, so even if we can’t get it passed in the Assembly this year, we can bring it up in the Assembly next year without having to go through the Senate again.” 

Schlosberg said that activists have not given up the fight for this year. “The deadline for getting bills to the governor to sign is September. We’ve still got time.” 

For her part, Grinage says that “we haven’t thrown in the towel.” But if Romero’s bill passes, she believes it won’t be through the Assembly Public Safety Committee. 

“We saw what they were about,” she said. “There’s no need to try to bring it back to those folks. We’re now trying to get people to contact [Assembly Speaker Fabian] Nuñez to bring this directly to the floor of the Assembly for a vote, without passing through committee. The Speaker has the power to do this.” 

Grinage said that local progressive activists had been “counting on people like Swanson to do that, but it doesn’t appear that he is up to the task. Any number of citizens and organizations have contacted his office, asking for his support for SB1019. The Mayor of Oakland is supporting it. The Oakland Chief of Police is supporting it. The Oakland City Council is supporting it. But the most we could get out of Swanson’s office is that he will vote for it when it comes to the floor of the Assembly, when he knew full well that it wasn’t going to get out of committee. That’s not leadership.” 

“Ironically,” Grinage added, Oakland City Attorney John Russo, who Swanson beat in last year’s Democratic primary for the Assembly seat, “is supporting the bill, even though Swanson has the reputation of being the more progressive of the two. On this issue, at any rate, progressives would be better off if Russo was in office.”