Senator pushes second bill aimed at opening LAPD
Sen. Gloria Romero says L.A.’s mayor supports her bill, which would allow greater public access to records from disciplinary hearings. The police union staunchly opposes it.
By Joel Rubin
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
June 17, 2008
A state senator hopes to revive a controversial bill that would increase media access to disciplinary hearings and records involving Los Angeles Police Department officers.
The legislation, according to Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles), was encouraged by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and has already generated sharp criticism from the union that represents LAPD officers.
Last year, Romero sponsored similar, yet more far-reaching, legislation that sought to overturn a state Supreme Court ruling that effectively barred law enforcement agencies from releasing personnel information.
The legislation passed the Senate, but stalled in the Assembly’s public safety committee. Members of the panel refused to discuss it or vote on it after leaders from several influential law enforcement unions spoke vociferously against it.
Union leaders argued that the law would endanger police officers’ lives by making it easier for disgruntled members of the public to track them down — although they could not cite cases in which officers had suffered such harm before the Supreme Court’s ruling, when the public enjoyed greater access to disciplinary information.
This time, the legislation targets the LAPD only.
The Committee on Public Safety is scheduled to hear the amended bill June 24.
If approved the legislation will permit, but not require, the LAPD to return to its disclosure policies before the Supreme Court’s decision in Copley Press Inc. vs. Superior Court of San Diego County. In that case, the court prohibited public disclosure of personnel records of a sheriff’s deputy appealing his discipline to a civil service commission.
After that ruling, LAPD officials imposed a far stricter policy, denying public access to disciplinary hearings that traditionally had been open and removing officers’ names from discipline records.
Word of Romero’s bill infuriated leaders of the Police Protective League, the union that represents the LAPD’s 9,300 rank-and-file officers.
Tim Sands, the group’s president, called the gambit a “legislative temper tantrum” on the senator’s part and said state unions would again present a unified front before the committee next week.
“If she is doing this with the idea that she can divide and conquer us, she is making a very big mistake,” he said.
The union Monday quickly pulled together a biting radio advertisement directed at Romero and the bill.
Romero said the decision to narrow the bill’s scope came after Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa told her that he would back the effort.
Last year, Villaraigosa and LAPD Police Chief William J. Bratton voiced strong public support for the original bill after a disciplinary panel secretly exonerated an officer involved in a high-profile shooting, even though the civilian Police Commission, which oversees the LAPD, had said the officer should be punished.
Romero and Villaraigosa discussed the issue at a recent meeting in Sacramento, where the mayor told Romero “that he wanted to get Los Angeles back to where it had been for three decades,” she recalled. Romero said she had not spoken to Bratton about the bill.
Neither the mayor, who is in Israel, nor Bratton could be reached for comment.