A bill that would make records of sexual assaults involving policemen made public and readily available to the media has returned to the California this session.
AB 1599 was reintroduced to the Assembly this week by author Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham (R-San Luis Obispo). Assemblyman Cunningham had previously introduced the bill last session to expand upon the 2018 SB 1421 law that made records of violent and harmful incidents committed by police, such as deadly force and sexual assaults, available on the public record. However, due to a high number of bills, Cunningham had delayed it until the next session before the first committee hearing.
Assembly Cunningham has also said that the bill would hold members of the police accountable even if they resigned or transferred out and would increase transparency with the public.
“California’s peace officers have a very difficult job,” stated Cunningham earlier this month. “As a former prosecutor, I know that the vast majority of them do their job with dignity and honor. However, sunshine is the best disinfectant and the only way to restore trust. Bad actors should not be able to exploit a loophole to evade responsibility.”
While the majority of Californians support the bill, many police organizations are against it. Many of the same groups had opposed SB 1421 and brought it up to the Federal Appeals Court in 2019, only for the law to be reaffirmed by the court.
“A lot of police departments have faced more and the more of the public being critical of them,” said Sarah Cordova, who has helped work public relations campaigns for several police and sheriffs departments. “There was the Ferguson incident, followed by more officer shootings, followed by Black Lives Matter, and then came many police departments refusing to share records when a lot of accused officers were approaching trials.”
“Part of it is that some police fear retaliation. Part of it is also that the public gets the records without context or extenuating circumstances.”
“But the major thing here is that officers now have to face more public scrutiny. The average person is upset when an officer who has been accused of a sexual assault resigns and simply moves down to another police department a few towns away, or in another state. They see it as escaping justice.”
“But with this law they’re trying to pass, it would stop that and would be a scarlet letter on them no matter where they go. The public would no every detail, both bad but also details that may show that the other person wasn’t truthful.”
“For the public it’s good, but for the police they’re very skittish about it, as it may lead to more and more publicly available records out there.”
AB 1599 is currently in the Assembly and needs to be passed in the house by January 31st to go onto the Senate and a possible Governor decision.