Oppressive police have been able to disappear people who are politically inconvenient.
In Soviet Russia and Pinochet’s Chile — to name a couple of examples in recent history– have created a reign of fear among the populace.
In a startling reversal of an established transparency policy, the Los Angeles Police Department has refused a recent routine records request, citing a 1993 court case, County of Los Angeles v. Superior Court (Kusar).
The Kusar case affirmed the public’s right to view contemporaneous records and the LAPD has cited this case in its refusal to release a record which is only nine months old. Coupled with the restrictions contained in Government Code 6254, which inhibits the disclosure of issues under investigation, the PD has effectively locked down information about any and all police records.
The specific issue surrounds a request made by this reporter on March 9, 2011 for the report pertinent to the detention of a Los Angeles resident. Jeannie Tanaka was taken into custody on June 10, 2010 upon an allegation that she had violated a Restraining Order. Tanaka was apparently released prior to being booked, after the Beverly Hills PD discovered that there was no Restraining Order in effect.
Jeannie Tanaka, sixty nine years old, is an attorney with the State of California and was visiting her mother , Jean, who is a conservatee. According to Tanaka, the conservator Linda Cotterman called the police and falsely claimed that Tanaka was under a R.O. According to Tanaka’s statement to this reporter, she was surprised by the arrival of the police and was handcuffed and taken away in front of her mother during a pleasant and otherwise uneventful visit.
While the Public Information office of the LAPD has orally confirmed Tanaka was released prior to booking, that office has refused to produce any records concerning the incident. Initially, PIO Karen Raynes stated that no electronic record exists and that this reporter would have to pay for an unspecified number of hours of research, as the clerks physically pawed through storage boxes for the nine month old report.
The Public Information Office later abandoned that response and on March 18 issued a letter which could be seen as stating a policy which effectively locks down all police records. The letter, signed by Martin Bland, states that â€œin accordance with the California Government Code Section 6254 (F) (2) specific information must ordinarily be disclosed from law enforcement files if it relates to contemporaneous law enforcement activity (See County of Los Angeles v. Superior Court (Kusar)…..The information contained in the report does not relate to contemporaneous law enforcement activity; therefore, I am denying your request.â€
However, the California Public Records Act specifically prohibits disclosure of records pertinent to issues that are under investigation, which reasonably may be seen as contemporaneous. By now including records that are not contemporaneous in the list of what cannot be disclosed, the PD has potentially sealed off all records from public view. The letter does not specifically define â€œcontemporaneousâ€ and could possibly reference any report that is not active and not under investigation. Logically, this is a perfect â€œCatch 22.â€
The implications of this are unsettling, to say the very least. The citation of the Kusar case could be seen as paving the way for the police to operate under a mantle of complete secrecy. One could easily project into a not-so-distant future where these two legal citations, in conjunction, could be used to create a modern day â€œSecret Police.â€
In other, oppressive regimes police have been able to disappear people who have become politically inconvenient. The effects of such practices, infamous in Soviet Russia and Pinochet’s Chile — to name a couple of examples in recent history– have created a reign of fear among the populace. America now seems to be creating the legal structure to accomplish precisely the same thing.
Janet Phelan is an investigative journalist whose articles have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, The San Bernardino County Sentinel, The Santa Monica Daily Press, The Long Beach Press Telegram, Oui Magazine and other regional and national publications. Her poetry has been published in Gambit, Libera, Applezaba Review, Nausea One and other magazines. Her first book, The Hitler Poems, was published in 2005. She currently resides abroad.
You may browse through her articles (and poetry) at janetphelan.com