Recently, the California Supreme Court ruled that police departments must give the names of officers involved in on-duty shootings.
The case stems from the fatal shooting of a man holding a garden hose by two Long Beach police officers. The Los Angeles Times filed a Public Records Act request for the names of the two officers involved. The names were later released in a police report clearing the officers of any wrongdoing. However, a federal jury ordered the city to pay the victim’s family $6.5 million after finding that the officers acted recklessly.
In a 6-1 ruling, the California Supreme Court rejected the overall ban on the names of officers involved in on-duty shootings. The ruling allows for certain exceptions to be made to keep undercover officers’ names private in case of credible threats against them.
Justice Joyce Kennard, who voted with the majority, stated that the ruling would help hold police officers accountable for their actions and would not jeopardize the safety of officers.
The police union asked the court to block the release of the names citing unspecified safety threats to officers. Justice Ming Chen, the lone dissenting judge, argued that the officers’ names could be used to easily track their home addresses and other personal information online, subjecting them to harassment and other safety issues.1
The Impact of the Ruling
The California Supreme Court’s decision is a victory for the public and a warning to law enforcement not to abuse their power. The public has the right to know what is happening in the community and the right to a certain degree of transparency from government agencies. Police departments are not separate, secret entities; they are a part of society. We deserve to know who is protecting us.
The ruling makes it more likely for police officers to follow proper procedure and to not act recklessly in serious situations. Some officers may feel threatened by the ruling, but they should not be worried if they are doing their jobs the right way.
With the release of police officers’ names, the public can be certain that officers are held accountable for their actions. Attorneys in these cases can use this new information to investigate officers for any past indiscretions or disciplinary actions.
Instead of entire police departments or the police in general getting a bad reputation for police brutality or abuse of power, individual officers will face responsibility for their actions. Sometimes, it is not the system as a whole that is the problem, but certain people who corrupt it.
What Do You Think?
At Wallin & Klarich, we have seen many instances of police misconduct result in false allegations against our clients. We are glad to see the Supreme Court’s ruling to identify officers involved in on-duty shootings.
What do you think? Do you agree with the Supreme Court’s decision? Do you have a different solution? Should there be more exceptions to this rule? Feel free to leave your comments or follow the discussion on Facebook.
1. [Court: Police must ID involved in shootings, May 29, 2014, http://www.cbsnews.com/news/court-police-agencies-must-id-officers-involved-in-shootings/]↩