Pasadena Police Must Confront Trust Issue

A police department is only as good as the public thinks it is.

The Pasadena Police Department should use that as its guiding principle as investigations and internal reviews mount. Credibility matters, and with the latest revelations of alleged police misconduct, the public should be fully informed.

Recently, the Pasadena police chief announced that the city hired a consulting firm to review all the cases handled by some of its officers. According to reporter Brian Charles, two officers allegedly hid exculpatory evidence and threatened at least one witness to recant earlier statements related to a 2007 murder case. Allegations connected to the officers also include: kidnapping, assaults, death threats and soliciting of bribes.

These and other revelations caused a judge last month to declare a mistrial in the case.

In addition, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, the county’s Alternate Public Defender’s Office and Sheriff’s Department Internal Affairs Bureau are investigating past cases of officers.

Criticism of the tactics used by the Pasadena police have ebbed and flowed over the years. Some black residents have long complained that they have been unfairly targeted.

A shooting last year increased the belief. In March 2012, an unarmed black teenager was shot and killed by police who believed he was armed and had just robbed someone at gunpoint.

The biggest obstacle in keeping the public informed and keeping trust is how difficult it is to get information on police misconduct. Unlike other public employees, even when police employees are found to have abused their authority, their employee files are rarely if ever disclosed. Secrecy is the default position and keeps the public in the dark.

The chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, Charlie Beck, who talked about how trust matters between police and residents, also recently noted the difficulty in keeping the public informed. After an ex-officer, later killed, exacted deadly revenge because of what he said was an unfair hearing and firing, Beck promised to be as transparent as possible. But he added that because of privacy protections allowed to police officers, state law would need to be changed to allow true transparency.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Beck appropriately summarized what all police departments face: “We have great responsibility. I don’t think any profession, any department, is as scrutinized as ours. That’s legitimate, because we (are given) the right to take away personal freedom, even human life.”

The Pasadena Police Department has that same responsibility given to it by its citizens.

When officers blatantly abuse that authority, openness should be the default position.

It keeps bad cops off the streets and allows the good cops to do their jobs and have community trust.

Right now there are too many questions unanswered. How far does this stain go? How many officers knew this was going on and did nothing? The department needs to answer these questions openly or that credibility gap will increase and the distrust will widen.

No one should want that.

Originally posted in the Pasadena Star News