The Los Angeles Times has published four hard-hitting articles in the last three days taking examining misconduct by Los Angeles County deputy sheriffs, taking square aim at changing California’s police officer privacy laws.
It is unclear whether the Times has made this a priority by itself or whether it is being secretly encouraged by Sheriff Jim McDonnell, who has been angling to undermine the Peace Officer Bill of Rights for years. McDonnell has been unsuccessful in his quest under existing law, so perhaps he’s going about it another way. After all, it was less than a year ago that PPOA President Brian Moriguchi called for an investigation into whether Sheriff McDonnell or his “Constitutional Policing” or media handlers intentionally and illegally leaked personnel information to the Times. (Was this crime investigated?)
Here is a good legal analysis of the issues.
On the other hand, it’s also unclear whether the Times is finally revisiting McDonnell’s absurd claim, and the Times’ prior agreement, that he has single-handedly engineered a “sea change in culture” within the LASD despite his deep unpopularity within the organization.
Here are the articles the Times has come out with since Thursday:
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LASD.News’ Opinion: We don’t know whether officer privacy laws / the Peace Officer Bill of Rights needs to be changed or not. As easy as it is to get information about people these days, and with a bloody history of officers being followed or confronted at their homes, there are certainly safety reasons to preserve POBR.
While the Times has identified many cases of real or alleged misconduct it would have liked to know about, and defense attorneys would have liked to know about–we don’t think it has established that the prior misconduct was actually relevant in the subsequent cases. For example, in the first story, the Times cites many lawyers and criminal suspects who would have been glad to use the deputy’s prior misconduct to angle for a lighter sentence or dismissal, when their actual guilt and the evidence in their cases does not seem to be in doubt.
As a journalistic and opinionated outfit ourselves, we understand the Times’ desire for access to officer personnel files. (Are journalists offering up their personnel files, too? Will LASD “executives” be wearing body cams?) But we are not yet convinced that the desired transparency will benefit anyone other than reporters who want to tell interesting stories, criminals who want to get out of jail, and the defense attorneys who want to help them. We look forward to the Times’ editorial board’s big reveal as to what exactly they are proposing.
Everyone makes mistakes in their life and career. While police officers have tremendous public trust placed in them and misconduct should be dealt with, criminals and their attorneys are looking for whatever will establish reasonable doubt in the least intelligent member of a jury. Or suggest to a busy deputy district attorney that a slam-dunk case will become a hassle and should be dismissed or pled.
Allowing criminals, defense attorneys and reporters to go on fishing expeditions through officers’ past and cherry-pick tidbits that benefit their own agendas will have many consequences which should be fiercely debated.