One of the most egregious characteristics of state-run police is the eradication of any sense of personal responsibility. Because law enforcement agents “are just following orders,” or the so-called “protocol,” they often get away with serious crimes.
In California, the culture of silence protecting cops is so firmly established that it’s impossible for reporters to release any information on officers with criminal records. Whether these criminals, some who are still in the force, are child molesters, domestic abusers, murderers, or thieves, Attorney General Xavier Becerra says their records are sealed.
And now, he’s so serious about protecting law enforcement agents from scrutiny that he is even threatening a group of investigative reporters.
Reporters from the Investigative Reporting Program at the University of California, Berkeley, acquired detailed information on thousands of California law enforcement officers through a public records request. But soon after the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) sent in the documents, Becerra’s Deputy Attorney General Michelle Mitchell wrote the group a letter, threatening legal action and saying that even possessing the records was a misdemeanor.
Now, his office wants the documents destroyed.
Journalists, of course, refuse. However, they have yet to release more information, as only limited details were made public after the news broke. Still, the fact the Golden State’s top cop is trying to protect the names of 12,000 convicted criminals simply because they are cops raises an important question: shouldn’t Californians have the right to know when members of their police force might be dangerous?
With crimes such as drug dealing, shoplifting, embezzlement, child molestation, murder, and domestic abuse, the information in this report is essential to help civilians stay safe. And yet, the attorney general is threatening anyone with access to this information.
In a statement, Becerra’s office said this isn’t about protecting police officers but about protecting Californians.
“State law protects the records of all Californians in this database by prohibiting the possession and use of this information by anyone not identified by statute,” the statement read. However, this isn’t the first time he’s kept the public from learning about corrupt government officials.
According to KCRA, Becerra is also refusing to release records of members of his own justice department who committed serious misconduct in the past, even though a new law requires the records’ release.
Whether state laws protect personal information on convicted criminals or not, law enforcement agents are public employees who are tasked with enforcing the laws they are clearly breaking. Because they are also given powers that go far beyond any other public servant, mainly due to the privileges that come with being the only ones allowed to use brute force against civilians, the information contained in these records should be widely available.
With cases of abuse of power being exposed regularly, it’s not far-fetched to think the culture of unaccountability does nothing to help. Quite the contrary, as officers may feel they have carte blanche to do as they please.
As First Amendment Coalition executive director David Snyder said, it is “disheartening and ominous that the highest law enforcement officer in the state is threatening legal action over something the First Amendment makes clear can’t give rise to criminal action against a reporter.” Most importantly, it is disheartening that an attorney general would be so willing to keep those he responds to in the dark as to whether their law enforcers are also criminals.
It’s almost as if office holders tasked with caring for public safety had other goals in mind.