Would Open LAPD Hearings Have Changed Christopher Dorner's Fate?
Officials cut off the public's access to police personnel records and disciplinary hearings because of a ruling from the California Supreme Court in 2006.
Now seven years later, the local and national press are poring over the LAPD records of Christopher Dorner, who was fired after a hearing. And LAPD Chief Charlie Beck has vowed to reinvestigate the 2009 case. That's leading some transparency advocates to wonder if this is all happening too late: would Dorner's case have played out any differently if the public and press had been invited to the hearings that led to his firing?
The way that hearing played out loomed large in Dorner's decision to go on a deadly rampage targeting law enforcement, . But Peter Scheer, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition,told Neon Tommy that he believes it could have unfolded differently: "There are widespread doubts, particularly in the African American community, of did he reach the point that he flipped because of racial discrimination in the department, or was he just off from the beginning? If the public and the press were allowed into those hearings it may have changed the outcome."
The Los Angeles Times is also lobbying for cases such as Dorner's to be open to the public, saying that shutting out the public from hearings undermines the public's confidence in the department: "This past week, however, L.A. has been reminded in the starkest terms that the price of closure is not just inconvenience for journalists; it's the threat that the public won't trust the institutions protected by such secrecy."
Back in 2007, now-termed out state Sen. Gloria Romero led a failed legislative effort to open up what the courts has shut down. In light of the Dorner case, Romero told Neon Tommy "Police mistrust is a long, festering sore with the LAPD that has never healed. Why don't we have a right to know?"
Beck himself has said that he would favor legislation that would open up hearings and personnel records.
So what's the hold-up? The Los Angeles Times said the police union was the culprit:
Leave it to the Los Angeles Police Protective League, in its zealous desire to represent its members, to thwart good public policy. The league and other police unions lobbied and resorted to outright threats -- one union leader not from Los Angeles promised to campaign against term-limit reform unless legislators defeated Romero's bill. Legislators folded, and the bill died.
In light of everything that happened with Dorner this week, the LAPPL hasn't changed its mind on this policy issue. Spokesman Eric Rose told Neon Tommy: "We haven't discussed that at all. So the answer would be unequivocally no."UPDATE: LAPPL spokesman Rose e-mails us to point out that under current law, police officers can open up their hearings to the public.
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