Thursday, December 11, 2008
Secrecy or Transparency: Shed sunshine on police records of drunk arrests.
Why it's not obviously silly for police to enforce and prevent public intoxication laws in bars. Whatever the legal justification for the policy in question, it still ought to be abandoned if it doesn't produce results than just racial profiling and lawsuits.
And I check on the internet and I found out a good evidence that there is a controversy on arresting people specially latinos. Check this site: Where it clearly denoted that 3/4 of those arrest are Latinos or Hispanics.
Shed Sunshine on Police records of drunk arrests.
By Skyler Porras is the director of the San José office of the ACLU of Northern California.
Amid the swirling controversy over the San Jose Police Department's practice of arresting large numbers of people — especially Latinos — under the state public-intoxication law, the department is damaging its reputation by choosing secrecy over transparency.
Before the city council hearing on Nov. 18, the American Civil Liberties Union submitted a formal request that these arrest reports be made public under the state open-records law. But days after the mayor and council said they wanted "broad-based community input" on the issue, the police department refused to publicly release the arrest records.
The council has directed the city manager to form a task force of community stakeholders to address this issue. But how will the task force members accurately identify the scope and nature of the problem if they are denied access to the most important records documenting it?
The Mercury News' reporting on this subject and analysis of the available arrest data have put two very simple, if uncomfortable, questions at the feet of local public officials:
Has the police department been making large numbers of false arrests for public drunkenness?
If so, are Latinos much more likely to be the victims of these bad arrests?
According to state law, people cannot be lawfully arrested for public intoxication unless they are so intoxicated that they are a danger to themselves or others or are obstructing use of sidewalks or streets. Officers must document these facts in a police report. Therefore, the obvious starting point for any serious examination of whether police are misusing this law is to review the police reports for these arrests. As the Mercury News reported, there were a whopping 4,661 of them in 2007. Fifty-seven percent of those arrested were Latinos.
The law is crystal clear that police officials have the discretion to release these records. But in the absence of a strong local sunshine ordinance in San Jose, as exists in some other California cities like Oakland and San Francisco, they do not have to do so.
The official justification for stamping these arrest reports "top secret" was the claim that they are "records of investigations." But releasing the police reports wouldn't compromise any future investigations because simple intoxication busts don't lead to any further investigation. And any prosecutions or further proceedings for public intoxication arrests that took place in 2007 were closed long ago.
Secrecy is bad policy
Chief Rob Davis has been a vocal opponent of a local sunshine ordinance that would require the police to make these sorts of records public. It's not a big surprise that a police agency would act to shield unlawful and embarrassing tactics from public scrutiny. But it's poor public policy to allow it. Unnecessary secrecy has a corrosive effect on public trust and closes doors to cooperative approaches.
Stonewalling community concerns about possible police misconduct doesn't lead to resolution. It leads to lawsuits. It leads to investigations by outside agencies — like the about-to-be-revived Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice: During the tenure of the presumptive Obama Attorney General Eric Holder at the Justice Department, the agency targeted local police departments for investigations specifically if they appeared to be stonewalling legitimate local concerns.
A well-conceived sunshine law would create a strong local legal presumption in favor of openness. Isn't it time for San Jose to adopt one?