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Police privacy bill is empty promise

Post by Kim Bradford on March 4, 2010 at 7:15 pm |
March 5, 2010 9:08 am

This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.

Supporters of the so-called police privacy bill have apparently given up on offering any rationale for the legislation and are instead making a naked bid for a sympathy vote.

Prime sponsor Lynn Kessler, the Democratic majority leader in the House, told the Seattle Times that she is aware that the bill won’t actually offer police officers and their families additional protection. But she wants the Legislature to pass it anyway as a symbolic gesture that acknowledges the six recent cop killings in Western Washington.

An empty promise of greater security is no way to honor law enforcement. But that’s all Kessler and other supporters have left. Every other argument of theirs has fizzled.

They couldn’t back up their original claims that organized crime uses public records to compile databases of law enforcement personnel. So then they alleged that the City of Lakewood had been “barraged” with public records requests for personal information about the families of the four police officers gunned down last year.

That was news to the City of Lakewood.

There also was testimony from Department of Corrections officials who argued that the public records act allows inmates to harass jailers – the same argument they used last year to convince the Legislature to change the law to prevent such harassment.

Even more damning, the bill’s sponsors have had to admit that the information they want to keep secret – the birth dates and photos contained in criminal justice employees’ personnel files – has legitimate public uses.

Access to birth dates, for example, allowed reporters to investigate domestic violence charges against police officials in the wake of the David Brame murder-suicide. When such examples were pointed out to them, lawmakers tried to pick off critics with an exception for news media. Meanwhile, they persisted in their effort to keep information from every other citizen.

In reality, House Bill 1317 wouldn’t keep anything from anyone. Thugs bent on finding police officers don’t have to file a public records request to get information. They ask around – or failing that, they jump on the Internet.

The Legislature should not invoke the memory of officers who died in the line of duty to pass legislation that does nothing but erode open government.

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