California Voters Want Policing Reforms That Politicians Won't Deliver

The public overwhelmingly favors safeguards that law-enforcement unions oppose—and the unions are winning.

Bret Hartman / Reuters

On Wednesday, the ACLU of Southern California released the results of a statewide survey that it commissioned to gauge the attitudes of likely voters toward policing reforms.

The results were overwhelming:

84 percent favor requiring police officers to wear body cameras.

74 percent of survey respondents believe the public should have access to footage from those body cameras any time that a police officer stands accused of misconduct. A narrow majority believes that the public should have access to all footage.

As for investigations into misconduct by police officers, 79 percent believe the public should have access to the findings if there has been wrongdoing, and 64 percent believe the public should have that same access anytime a cop is even accused.

The whole Black Lives Matter policy agenda would likely poll well here.

It is a testament to the political clout of police unions in the Golden State that policies favored by large majorities of Republican, Democratic, and independent voters are not policy. In Los Angeles, body cameras will roll out in greater numbers this Wednesday, but the LAPD has no plans to allow the public to see the footage generated. Statewide, the results of investigations into police-officer misconduct are sealed from public view under some of the most restrictive laws in the country, often passed by Democratic-controlled legislatures and signed by Democratic governors. Jerry Brown, the current governor, signed one of the worst laws during his last go-round in Sacramento, during the late 1970s. The Democrats who control the state now have yet to reverse it, despite the fact that rank-and-file Democrats are the biggest supporters of transparency. That is an embarrassing failure, and many of their Republican rivals in Sacramento are no better or worse.

The disconnect between what politicians are doing on this issue and the policies that the state’s voters overwhelmingly favor creates an opportunity for policing-reform activists and ambitious politicians. And it suggests that a statewide ballot initiative that takes aim at law-enforcement secrecy could win over voters in 2016.

But none of that should be necessary. The legislature has already seen bills that would leave police officers better trained, more subject to transparency, and more accountable. More bills can be introduced. All that’s needed are politicians with the fortitude to put the public’s interest ahead of the public-employee unions.

Alas, California is short on politicians like that.