As a relatively new state senator, I did my best to work across the aisle.
One example is my assisting Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) in February 2016 when I coauthored one of his more ambitious bills. It was Senate Bill 1286, which addressed police officers and their records of misconduct. If approved, this legislation would have required that “personnel records and records relating to complaints against peace officers and custodial officers to be [made] available for public inspection pursuant to the California Public Records Act.”
The bill passed through the Senate Public Safety Committee with five votes; the two Republican members did not vote for the bill. At the time, Steven Greenhut of the Orange County Register opined in favor of SB 1286.
Greenhut wrote: “Because of a 2006 state Supreme Court decision, Californians have had virtually no access to information about police officers who may have engaged in pattern of misbehaviors or who have been involved in multiple shootings. In Copley Press v. Superior Court, the San Diego Union-Tribune sought access to the disciplinary hearing of a San Diego deputy sheriff who appealed his termination.
“The far-reaching ruling blocked the public’s access to information that previously was available and that remains widely accessible in most other states. A 2010 report by the Investigative Fund found that 25 of 27 Fresno police officers who were involved in repeated shootings remained on the force. The Copley decision meant the public had no right to learn who they were. That can allow bad officers to fester within a department.”
The bill was forwarded to the Senate Appropriations Committee, where controversial bills are put on suspense and never see the light of day again. It is like getting a veto before even getting the chance to have a senate floor debate. And this was the outcome with SB 1286.
One can correctly assume that all the public safety unions and associations in California put significant pressure on Sen. Ricardo Lara, the then-chair of appropriations, to kill the bill. They wanted personnel files to be kept confidential. He accommodated that demand.
No wonder Greenhut observed: “Perhaps the nation wouldn’t be facing so much turmoil over police use-of-force issues if there were fewer union prerogatives and more accountability.”
Two years later, Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) would ask me to coauthor a similar bill.
It also passed through the Senate Public Safety Committee, this time receiving two votes in opposition by the Republican members. It would go to Senate Appropriations and this time be forwarded on, despite the two Republican members voting in opposition.
It then was passed on the senate floor with 25 votes, with me being the only Republican to support the bill. It would pass with the same votes on concurrence to accept amendments made by the assembly and barely passed on the Assembly Floor, with 44 votes. It was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown on September 30, 2018.
Why was I the independent Republican? Because eight years on the Orange County Board of Supervisors was an eye-opening experience. There were some 30 lawsuits against the sheriff’s department when I took office.
I learned about the “code of silence.”
I had to deal with the tragic death of John Derek Chamberlain, leading to my creating the Office of Independent Review to monitor the Sheriff’s Department and its employees when acts of misconduct were perpetrated.
What has this transparency law, SB 1421, wrought? According to one recent account, “Troves of misconduct cases emerge from records—Incidents include a deputy romancing a woman while on duty, jailer pummeling an inmate.”
The public employee unions for public safety employees did not want the public to see the underbelly of what occurs when police officers and deputy sheriffs leave the reservation. The nonsense was kept confidential from the general public.
The good news is that bad behavior by police officers and deputy sheriffs should rapidly decrease. This is good for those who protect and serve us every day at the risk of losing their own lives. It is also good for taxpayers, who should not be subsidizing and unknowingly condoning inappropriate behavior.
Why do we have an occasional rogue officer? With their unions keeping bad behavior secret, they previously could get away with literally anything. And, with these same unions using misinformation and misleading and false claims in political mailers, it enables police officers to lie as well.
Recently, it was reported that two California state prison guards lied about an inmate who had been decapitated by his cellmate, stating that he was alive when they performed their inspections. This behavior must stop.
We need to give our police and county sheriff’s departments all the tools to run pristine and honorable forces. Giving them a tool to address bad apples was long overdue. SB 1421 will increase the public’s trust in those who wear the badge to protect us.
On the anniversary of the tragic George Floyd asphyxiation, let us do our best to encourage excellence in policing. This is not the time to defund police, but it would not hurt to defund police unions, as they have been a negative influence on those they represent.
John Moorlach is a former Orange County Supervisor who most recently served as a state senator. He previously spent 12 years as Orange County’s Treasurer-Tax Collector, and led the county out of bankruptcy.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.