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Police Misconduct Files Could Be Made Public Under New California Transparency Bill

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- Details of investigations involving police misconduct and police shootings could be disclosed to California residents under a new bill introduced in the state Legislature Friday.

State Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), who authored SB 1286, believes it would help improve transparency, accountability and public trust in law enforcement following numerous officer-involved shootings around the country captured on video.

"California is behind the times when it comes to providing transparency in law enforcement records," Leno said. "The public has a right to know when officers apply deadly force and when serious cases of misconduct have been confirmed. Failing to disclose such important information can fuel mistrust within our communities and threaten public safety."

The bill comes in the wake of a number of fatal officer-involved shootings, including the November 2015 death of 29-year-old San Francisco resident Mario Woods, whose body had 20 gunshot wounds, according to the San Francisco Medical Examiner's Office.

The measure would give the public access to records related to allegations of serious misconduct against officers if the claims have been confirmed and allow the public to access records relating to use of force that causes or is likely to cause death or serious bodily injury.

Additionally, the measure would give residents who file complaints alleging police misconduct access to information related to those complaints and allows local governments to determine whether public hearings and administrative appeals should be held.

Leno said the public would be able to review records related to sustained charges against a law enforcement official including sexual assault, racial or identity profiling, illegal searches or seizures, among other acts of misconduct.

The court, however, can still decide to withhold records if releasing the record poses a risk or danger to an officer or another person.

San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi said this bill "will help prevent future tragedies."

Adachi said, "In San Francisco, officers with serious misconduct records that should have disqualified them from duty have gone on to harm city residents."

States including Florida, Ohio and Washington already make such records public regardless of whether the incident has been confirmed. Texas, Kentucky, and Utah, among other states, allow public access to such records, when an allegation of misconduct has been confirmed.

San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón said, "California is among a minority of states that makes police disciplinary records confidential."

Gascón said that when the public is unable to determine whether an officer has been disciplined, it "contributes to the feeling that police departments are hiding something -- even if they're not -- which ultimately adds to the mistrust between police and the communities they serve.  This dynamic has a detrimental effect on our public safety."

The American Civil Liberties Union of California is also supporting Leno's bill.

Peter Bibring, the ACLU's director of police practices said, "Police can't earn the public's trust when there is a wall of secrecy shielding how departments address misconduct and when they allow officers to use deadly force."

Bibring said that increasing transparency is a "first step in improving public trust – particularly with communities of color."

The bill could also aid members of the media who are seeking additional information regarding confirmed cases of police misconduct.

By Hannah Albarazi - Follow her on Twitter

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