Stock image, St.George News
DENVER (AP) – Lawmakers in more than 20 states, including Utah, have considered bills this year to make police disciplinary records public or share them with other agencies, a push that comes amid high-profile deaths at hands of the police. However, around 20 states still largely prohibit their release.
Supporters of greater transparency say it could help improve police accountability, build trust with the community, and prevent officers with discipline issues who leave one department from being hired by another.
Opponents claim that the publication of such records could damage officers’ reputations with only minor infractions or even put them at risk. They also argue that disciplinary action is part of personnel files, which are exempt from state laws on open files.
But amid growing nationwide protests over the alleged excessive force by police officers, at least 16 states have considered taking steps to make these files, or summaries of them, public. Eight others discussed making the records accessible to other law enforcement agencies.
In Utah, Republican Gov. Spencer Cox signed a bill in March granting legal immunity to law enforcement agencies who share general information about former employees with other agencies looking to hire. State Senator Jani Iwamoto, a Democrat in the GOP-dominated Legislature, introduced the bill in response to the case of a University of Utah officer who resigned while on duty under investigation for allegedly sharing explicit photographs of a victim in an alleged extortion case who was later allegedly killed. The officer was then hired by the Logan, Utah, police who were unaware of the investigation.
“We want people to feel like they can report a bad cop,” said Iwamoto, who also successfully sponsored another bill to ensure that police disciplinary investigations are completed even if a police officer resigns for a while. that another is in progress.
Without legislation in place, lawyers advised police departments not to share disciplinary files for fear of prosecution, Iwamoto said.
In North Carolina’s Republican-controlled legislature, lawmakers want to create a confidential database from which state law enforcement agencies can track any disciplinary action to prevent officers from hiding cases. problems from the past when looking for a new job.
“We allow agencies to better screen individuals … so that we can eliminate who are the bad apples,” said Republican Senator Danny Britt.
As part of a larger police reform bill that Britt supports, authorities would also monitor any use of force by officers resulting in serious injury or death. And the legislation would create an “early warning system” to collect data on citizen complaints and all transgressions with the aim of correcting an officer’s behavior before it leads to a fatal outcome.
Maryland went further, approving the release of files relating to formal misconduct complaints. The Democratic-controlled legislature overturned the veto of Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, who opposed the public release of the unfounded complaints. Supporters argue that the public has a right to see how police departments investigate complaints against officers.
The proposals are part of a national record of murders of blacks perpetrated by the police. Efforts to access police disciplinary records have increased, as have public awareness of the problem, which has grown since the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, said Rachel Moran, associate professor. and founder of the Criminal and Juvenile Defense Clinic at St. Thomas University Law School in Minneapolis.
Other states seeking to resolve police issues had already taken action before this year.
In 2018, California lawmakers voted to allow the public access to records of officer shootings and other major uses of force. New York lawmakers last year repealed a law that blocked public disclosure of police, fire and correctional officers’ disciplinary records. Hawaii has taken similar action, letting the public know the details of more than 80 cases of wrongful assault and more than 100 cases of officers filing false reports or covering up offenses.
In New Jersey last year, State Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, without waiting for legislation, ordered local and state police to release the names and disciplinary summaries of officers who had been fired, demoted or suspended for more than five days. Grewal said the information was needed to promote community confidence and police accountability amid protests against the death of George Floyd in Minnesota.
Nothing has come of Grewal’s order yet due to a legal challenge by law enforcement unions. They argue that personnel records are exempt under state open ledger laws and that officers and their families could be put at risk if made public. They also oppose the disclosure of information about confidential disciplinary agreements made for issues such as alcohol consumption and domestic violence.
Pat Colligan, president of the New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association, said many officers who faced issues like this went on to have good careers. Colligan said he would support the publication of files only for major offenses, such as excessive force and civil rights violations, from now on.
He would also like the state’s early warning system to have the ability to provide assistance to officers or eliminate those who are not supposed to wear a badge.
“People need to stop assuming that every officer is a problematic agent,” he said.
Written by COLLEEN SLEVIN, Associated Press
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