Police Abuse

Calif. Lawmaker Thinks Police Aren't Protected Enough from Misconduct Claims

Bill would increase the evidence threshold to find that an officer has lied.


Flynt / Dreamstime.com

California is always a useful reminder that both parties are adept at kowtowing to law enforcement representatives in order to protect their own interests over those of the public.

It's not a law-and-order Jeff Sessions-style Republican trying to make it harder for discipline officers for lying under a new proposed state law in California. It's Democratic, Los Angeles-based Assemblyman Miguel Santiago.

Santiago's bill, AB 1298, would alter the procedures for police disciplinary hearings under state law. During administrative proceedings for police misconduct it would increase the evidentiary threshold to find that a police officer made a false statement. It would increase the threshold from a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not) to "clear and convincing" evidence (pretty damned sure) to determine that the officer made a false statement.

Yes, this is a still a lower threshold for criminal conviction, but these are not criminal cases. These are disciplinary proceedings and civil matters. The Los Angeles Times notes that this higher threshold is similar to what is required by the courts in order to get a restraining order or to lose custody of one's children.

So, clearly, this law would have the net impact of decreasing the likelihood that an officer is found to have been lying. It is being pushed by the Los Angeles Police Protective League. Their spokesman says it's to protect all those good cops from being punished for mistakes. From the Los Angeles Times:

"The result of being found guilty of a false statement is so horrible, you're going to get fired no matter how many medals you have," said Gary Ingemunson, independent counsel for the Los Angeles Police Protective League, which is the bill's principal backer.

Ingemunson said the bill would shield officers who were disciplined because they didn't remember making statements or were being unfairly targeted by management.

"Does this make it harder to fire bad cops? My answer to that is this makes it harder to fire good cops," he said.

That's an interesting assertion to say the least, given that California law significantly shields police officers from public disclosures of their disciplinary records, so it's kind of hard to prove his claim. The actual state law that oversees police discipline specifically says that police officers may not be punished solely because that officer's name shows up on any sort of list or record of police who have engaged in misconduct.

In fact, at the same time this law is being pitched, the union that represents Los Angeles County deputies is suing in order to keep the sheriff's office from informing prosecutors of the names of deputies who have been found to have engaged in professional misconduct.

In addition, and not mentioned in the Times story, Santiago's bill would also forbid witness testimony for police disciplinary hearings to be provided by telephone or "any other electronic means." That sounds like a recipe either for passive-aggressive witness intimidation or an environment where a witness cannot make time or is otherwise physically unable to attend a hearing and therefore will not have claims considered.

The Times notes that civil liberties groups aren't the only ones concerned about the implications of Santiago's bill. Representatives for sheriffs across the state complained in a hearing for the bill that their communities are attacking them for not dealing with problem officers. This legislation will make it harder.