THE SLOW DEATH of a worthy bill being discussed in Sacramento offers powerful evidence of what happens to a state when it comes under the control of its police. State Sen. Gloria Romero (D-Los Angeles), the author of SB 1019, has done her best to right a wrong. Outraged by the closure of police disciplinary hearings to public scrutiny, she introduced her bill to allow cities to reopen those proceedings. For Los Angeles, where such hearings had been open for decades before being closed in the wake of a badly reasoned state Supreme Court decision last year, Romero's proposal offered the opportunity to reassure the public that its police were under control. That's no small message, especially in light of the May 1 melee in MacArthur Park that reignited concern about the LAPD's propensity to violence.
We have consistently supported Romero's bill, as have many leading government officials and civil liberties organizations. But from the moment the bill was introduced, police unions have fought dirty and disingenuously to defeat it, throwing around their political weight in order to protect their members from legitimate scrutiny.
The first sign of that was an extraordinarily ham-fisted e-mail from John R. Stites, one of the unions' leaders. Stites baldly threatened members of the Legislature who supported Romero's bill by vowing to oppose a term-limits measure, adding: "This will only be the beginning." Locally, leaders of the Los Angeles Police Protective League told this newspaper that they would support a bill that would reopen disciplinary hearings, then, once they were out of the building, announced their opposition.
The union thuggery continued this week as representatives testified that Romero's bill would embolden criminals and undermine safety. Nonsense. In a final insult, the Assembly's Public Safety Committee, host to that testimony, turned off the TV camera, preventing the public even from watching a debate over public access.
Police officers wear their names on their badges for a reason. They are public servants, paid by taxpayer dollars. They conduct their business in the most public of forums, and the public has every right to scrutinize their work. Recognizing that, Romero hopes to bring back an amended bill next week; she acknowledges that the odds are against it. As long as members of the Legislature are cowed by police unions, she's right. And we all suffer for their cowardice.