Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton likes to stress the importance of “transparency” to reassure the public that police are performing honestly and professionally, says the Los Angeles Times. Last week, he was thrust into a case study on the perils of government secrecy. Bratton had to defend himself against criticism that his department was talking one game and playing another.
A police department board cleared an officer whose shooting of a 13-year-old boy was criticized by the Police Commission. The case raised the question of whether a decision reached in secret can satisfy the public, particularly when the question under debate is an allegation of police abuse. “This is an intolerable result,” said Merrick Bobb, a police accountability expert, of the secrecy that surrounds police disciplinary hearings. A California Supreme Court ruling last August held that police personnel records were not public documents. Based on that ruling, the city attorney’s office in Los Angeles advised the Police Department to close its boards of rights, which have been open to the public for decades.