I couldn't agree more.
Enough secrecy in the DA's office
The Times-Standard Editorial Article Launched: 05/25/2007 04:29:32 AM PDT
The chief prosecutor of Humboldt County has us scratching our heads with his waffling over making his office's “use of force” policy available to the public.
The issue arose when District Attorney Paul Gallegos and his new investigator, former Eureka police Sgt. Mike Hislop, proposed to beef up their firepower with the purchase of eight AR-15 semiautomatic rifles. This triggered questions from Loretta Nicklaus, Humboldt County's administrative officer, who wondered whether the DA had the need, training and policies in place for such an arsenal -- a use of force policy, in particular.
While working on a story about the new weapons, two Times-Standard reporters sought a copy of the DA's policy. Gallegos initially said he would get them a copy, then changed his mind and wouldn't even let them view the document. The Times-Standard then made a formal request a week ago under the state Public Records Act. Gallegos has 10 days to release the use of force policy, or to explain his legal reasons for withholding it.
Since then, Gallegos has offered these comments about the issue, via e-mail:
* “I never said that the information was not available under the Freedom of Information Act. Quite the contrary, I informed you that our use of force policy is not a public record.” To throw around some legal Latin, that's a non sequitur. A FOIA request is the federal equivalent of the California Public Records Act, and is a tool used to pry PUBLIC records out of reluctant PUBLIC officials.
* “I have some reluctance to make use of force policies public information . . . especially when there is no claim that anyone (in the DA's office) has unlawfully used force.”
That has no bearing on whether a policy is public or not. But perhaps Gallegos and his team are being overly sensitive to community polarization about four shooting deaths involving Eureka police officers, going back to Cheri Lyn Moore more than a year ago. DA investigations and findings on three of those deaths are pending, including Moore's.
* “I also informed you that, if you heard from others that (our use of force policy is a public record), to let me know and I would consider others' determinations.”
The Eureka Police Department and the county sheriff's department say their use of force policies are open to the public, as does the DA in San Diego County. So do two open-records experts we checked with -- attorneys who said the law is clear: The public not only has a right to view use of force policies, but to receive copies.
Also, the California Peace Officers' Association says such policies are important in creating public confidence in law enforcement. To do that, of course, the public must know what the policy is.
We have to wonder: Why all this bobbing and weaving, especially by somebody who should know the law? If the DA's office has a use of force policy, let's see it. If it does not, then it should 'fess up and create one (the California Peace Officers' Association has a sample you can adapt). Then put it online, so everyone can see it. That should free up time to produce the long-overdue report on Moore's death.