A bill that would allow the public to easily obtain any and all records of law enforcement officer-involved sexual assaults, even in cases of resignations, passed the Assembly on Monday with a vote of 63-2.
The bill is an expansion of SB 1421, a 2018 law that made records of violent incidents committed by police, available on the public record. AB 1599 is widely seen as a law that would close the ‘loophole’ of not releasing case records when the accused officer resigns or leaves the force. Assemblyman Cunningham had written the bill response to an incident where a Paso Robles police officer accused of rape resigned, thus blocking all internal records of the incident from going to the press or the public.
“We passed a landmark police transparency measure in 2018, but a glaring loophole lets bad actors who commit sexual assault under color of law keep records hidden,” stated Assemblyman Cunningham. “The public deserves access to investigative records into sexual assault under color of law under tight parameters. AB 1599 will bring transparency to government and help restore the public trust.”
Earlier this month Assemblyman Cunningham also said “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.”
Sarah Cordova, who has previously worked PR campaigns for several California law enforcement departments, says that the bill may have some unintended bonuses as well.
“The public is often kept out of the loop of internal affair investigations,” explained Cordova. “Many rank-and-file resent them and the public doesn’t trust them because, again, they don’t see their work. Plus they think they’ll back the police every time.”
“With the bill, we get to see, in full, how these are conducted. We’ve seen a lot of these already thanks to that new law from a few years ago, but this also will show just how fair internal investigations are to both the officer and the victim, and perhaps even give police a bit of a push to ask more questions or ask questions the media and the public think should have been asked.”
“No police department wants the public against them, and this will only help by making sure there’s no way anyone can get out of serving time or dodging a crime they did.”
While some police and sheriff’s departments are against the bill, it otherwise enjoys wide, mostly bipartisan support. Groups ranging from media organizations to public defender groups to the ACLU have also come out in support of AB 1599.
AB 1599 will now head to the Senate, where it is widely expected to pass by a wide margin.