Supes to vote on City support of public access bill 

Law enforcement agencies statewide may be obligated to release the identities of peace officers who face disciplinary charges if state legislation supported by the San Francisco Police Department’s civilian oversight body passes.

The legislation, Assembly Bill 1648, written by Assemblyman Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, would effectively overturn the State Supreme Court’s 2006 decision in Copley Press v. Superior Court, which banned public access to peace officer disciplinary records and hearings. Prior to the decision, access to records and hearings was a matter of local jurisdiction. Records and hearings with the San Francisco Police Commission were open to the public. The bill would grant similar access statewide.

On Wednesday, the commission, with two of its members absent, voted unanimously to support a nonbinding resolution written by Commissioner David Campos, pledging The City’s official supportof the bill. That resolution passed the Board of Supervisor’s Rules Committee on Thursday. The next step is for it to pass the board as a whole.

Police union representatives have supported the Aug. 31, 2006, Copley decision and opposed any attempts to overturn it.

On Wednesday, police Chief Heather Fong broke her previous silence on the issue, and weighed in against the resolution and the bill. "Police officers make mistakes, as everybody else in society, and I think they should have options in terms of either the open or closed [disciplinary hearing] session," Fong said.

If a complaint against an officer is sustained under AB 1648, it would require agencies employing peace officers to make public an officer’s name and badge number, a summary of the allegations against the officer, the charges against the officer and the factual findings of the investigation into the charges.

"This goes far too far by mandating the release of information," San Francisco Police Officers Association lawyer John Tennant said at the commission meeting. He indicated that, prior to Copley, cities had the right to legislate such access. "This is going to be a war between Mark Leno’s legislation and law enforcement," union President Gary Delagnes said Friday.

But media groups, open government groups and the American Civil Liberties Union have opposed the Copley decision. "Transparency is incredibly important to improve police-community relations and to accountable policing," Mark Schosberg, police practices policy director for the ACLU of Northern California, said Friday.

Campos said at the meeting that openness would "vindicate" officers who play by the rules. "I do think there is an issue in S.F. of a lot of people not trusting the Police Department, and I think openness can help build trust in the department," he said in an interview Friday. "This allows people to see that if there is misconduct it won’t be tolerated, and it shows the public what the department does when misconduct takes place," he said.

In September, the Police Commission voted to abide by the Copley decision, but to urge the state Legislature to overturn it.

amartin@examiner.com

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