Five before Midnight

This site is dedicated to the continuous oversight of the Riverside(CA)Police Department, which was formerly overseen by the state attorney general. This blog will hopefully play that role being free of City Hall's micromanagement.
"The horror of that moment," the King went on, "I shall never, never forget." "You will though," the Queen said, "if you don't make a memorandum of it." --Lewis Carroll


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Location: RiverCity, Inland Empire

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The impact of the Copley ruling

Last night, at the city council meeting, Chief Russ Leach responded to concerns from the public about the city's delay in releasing the identities of the police officers involved in two recent fatal shootings. He and Deputy Chief John DeLaRosa appeared at the city council meeting but left soon after responding to public comment.

Leach's comments came after representatives from the Riverside Coalition for Police Accountability thanked the police department for releasing the names but said it should have been done so earlier to improve transparency and thus build on the trust created between the department and the local communities during the five-year stipulated judgment. Human Relations Commission Chair Chani Beeman called the initial failure to disclose the officers' names earlier "two strikes" against the city.

City Manager Brad Hudson also reiterated the city's decision to release the names. Councilman Frank Schiavone chipped in and said that the city council had taken an active role in asking City Attorney Gregory Priamos to research the Copley decision. Everyone from the city suddenly seemed interested in jumping on this bandwagon.

After the shootings of Douglas Steven Cloud on Oct. 8 and Joseph Darnell Hill on Oct. 19, the police department had declined to release the identities of the officers who pulled the triggers. According to a Press Enterprise article, the reason was that the Riverside Police Officers Association had sent its attorney to remind Priamos about the recent Copley Press v Superior Court of San Diego County ruling, which prohibited the names of officers from being released during disciplinary proceedings. Priamos said that his office would review the decision and then decide what to do.

On Oct. 23, the police department issued two press releases which included the names of the officers involved with both shootings. Apparently, Priamos had determined that the ruling only applied to officers' disciplinary records. Because officer-involved shooting investigations are not themselves disciplinary processes, but inquiries that may or may not result in disciplinary action depending on the findings reached, they did not fall under the scope of the decision. For the Community Police Review Commission, this may have been the one occasion when its weak design worked in its favor.

The stronger police boards and commissions in the state are having a much more difficult time interpreting the decision and its effect on their operations.

Berkeley, home of the oldest and most independent form of civilian oversight in California has grappled with this issue and how it will be discussed, according to a recent article in the Berkeley Daily Planet.

Critics criticize closed door discussion of police disciplinary hearings

Berkeley's city attorney, Manuela Albuquerque made the decision to hold the discussion with the commission behind closed doors which rankled at least two commissioners including Sherry Smith, who felt any debate over the Copley decision should be held in public. Commissioner Bill White was also concerned and said the following.

"Discussion of the Copley decision should not be handled in closed session. If we're going to discuss the Copley decision, it's a public discussion."

Berkeley's Cop Watch planned a march and rally in protest of the closed session.

The San Francisco Police Commission placed the same item on its agenda for open discussion at a recent meeting as posted here. On Sept. 20, that discussion was held, according to this minute record. The city's attorney had already offered this legal opinion. Asst. City Attorney Dennis Herrera offered the following advice.

1) Close disciplinary hearings to the public unless the involved officer(s) waives privacy.

2) Amend the procedures in accordance to Copley

3) Petition law makers in Sacramento through the mayor and board of supervisors to amend state law, PC 832.7 or other applicable codes.

At that meeting, the police commission voted to try the third option which was to urge the mayor and board of supervisors to send a resolution up to Sacramento to change the state's public disclosure act.

Commission seeks transparency on police discipline

San Francisco's commission conducts disciplinary hearings and was preparing to hear one on the infamous "Fajitagate" case when the decision came down. That hearing was pushed into closed session, one day after the commission held its public discussion on the case decision.

It is not clear what the response will be from the RPOA to Priamos' decision to authorize the release of the officers' names based on his legal interpretation of the recent state supreme court decision or whether there will be one. After all, the book on the Copley decision and its impact on the state has yet to be closed, but its reverberations will probably be felt in months and even years to come.

Still, it is interesting, if very surprising to see the city attorney who probably has the most conservative interpretation of PC 832.7 in the state come out with a decision which releases information on police officers in this city.

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