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Tantrums at the LAPD

The police union is overreacting to a bill allowing the public access to hearings on officer misconduct.

June 19, 2008

State Sen. Gloria Romero fought a noble but losing battle last year to open up hearings in which police officers are accused of serious misconduct. That's hardly a radical idea: The Los Angeles Police Department's hearings, known as boards of rights, were open for decades without incident and helped ensure that some of this city's most scalding allegations of police abuse received necessary public scrutiny.

That practice ended with an ill-considered state Supreme Court decision in 2006 that declared some police records private; the mischief of that ruling was compounded by the L.A. city attorney's office, which misread its implications and concluded that it mandated closure of hearings as well (a footnote in the opinion made it clear that hearings were not considered, but no one has ever accused the city attorney's office of top-notch legal work). This left the city's police less subject to legitimate public oversight, and Romero (D-Los Angeles) stepped in to correct the matter. Her bill, SB 1019, would have reversed the court and granted all California cities the right to restore public access.

Leave it to the Los Angeles Police Protective League, in its zealous desire to represent its members, to thwart good public policy. The league and other police unions lobbied and resorted to outright threats -- one union leader not from Los Angeles promised to campaign against term-limit reform unless legislators defeated Romero's bill. Legislators folded, and the bill died. This year, Romero has narrowed her bill -- in its current form, it would affect only those police departments under federal consent decrees, meaning only the LAPD -- and the league is at it again. It has launched a radio campaign that manages to combine disregard for public accountability and snarky sexism. "Now," League President Tim Sands proclaims in the spot, "the senator is back at it. Only this time, in a legislative tantrum, she has crafted a narrowly worded bill aimed solely at the brave men and women of the LAPD."

Now, really, who's throwing the tantrum? The police union that threatens political retaliation and accuses an elected official of making it easier for gang members to access police files? Or the state senator who defends public accountability with a bill that merely restores Los Angeles' time-tested procedures?

"After a decade in Sacramento," the ad concludes, "the politician must have forgotten who she works for." We submit that the opposite is true. Romero is acting in the best traditions of her office, braving criticism to support public oversight. She deserves the support of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Police Chief William J. Bratton and all other defenders of accountability in government.

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