A bill introduced in the Missouri House Of Representatives would amend the state's "Sunshine Law" to prevent the release of names of police officers involved in shootings, unless the officer were charged with a crime.
The bill, House Bill 1466, was filed on June 13 by State Representative Jeff Roorda of Missouri's 113th house district, a Democrat.
The bill seeks to amend the state's "Sunshine Law" which allows citizens and media to request records from state and municipal governments. One of the proposed amendments in Roorda's bill seeks to amend the Sunshine Law by adding the following exemption:
Any records and documents pertaining to police shootings as defined in section 610.010 if they contain the name of any officer who did the shooting, unless the officer who did the shooting has been charged with a crime as a result of the shooting, in which case such records or documents shall not be closed
Currently, Missouri Sunshine Act states that records of police incidents—including officer names— are public data that are to be delivered within three days of a lawful request. However, there are some exemptions that are permissible under the law.
In the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, authorities have cited risks to the officer and his/her family as their reason to not release the officer's name until a later date.
While some might claim that the bill is a knee-jerk reaction to some of the events in Ferguson, the bill was actually proposed several months before the incident that has made national news.
The bill's sponsor is a former police officer who was fired from the Arnold, Mo., police department for allegedly falsifying police reports. According to the Missouri Court of Appeals' narrative in their ruling upholding Roorda's termination, Roorda was caught allegedly falsifying a police report to cover the actions of another officer. Roorda was written up and was warned the department would fire him if he were found falsifying reports again.
According to the court record, Roorda later filed an internal affairs complaint against Arnold Police Chief Dale Fredeking, claiming Fredeking verbally abused and physically intimidated Roorda during a private meeting about a family medical leave issue. Roorda told internal affairs he had recorded the alleged incident. Roorda signed a complaint and provided the recordings to investigators.
After listening to the recordings and interviewing witnesses within earshot of the purported altercation, the investigators stated that neither the recordings nor witness testimony substantiated Roorda's allegations. In light of Roorda’s past disciplinary record and the seriousness of the allegations he had made to internal affairs, the Arnold Police Department carried out its threat and fired Roorda, according to the court documents.
Besides being a State Representantive, Roorda currently serves as business manager of the St. Louis Police Officer's Association. In this role, he has been an outspoken critic of placing cameras in police cars.
In one case in St. Louis, prosecutors dismissed charges against a person arrested on suspicion of illegal possession of prescription drugs after the trial judge ruled the physical evidence inadmissible. In his report, the officer claimed the suspect threw the baggie containing the drugs in an attempt to conceal evidence. However, a camera appeared to show the drugs hitting the ground after the officers reached into the suspect's pocket. The defendant claimed the officers had planted the drugs.
While the judge did not specifically state he believed or disbelieved whether the police had planted the evidence, he did state that he found the officers’ credibility to be lacking, according to his ruling.
Speaking about the incident, Roorda told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that incidents like these are why the Police Officer's Association opposes in-car cameras, saying also that video subverts justice.
Of course the irony of this situation is shockingly poignant in light of recent events in Ferguson: If the Ferguson police car had been equipped with in-car cameras then police, prosecutors, federal agents and eventually the public might know for certain what happened. Instead we are left with nothing but allegations and counter-allegations by a police department that has a serious public perception problem, and a public pushed to its breaking point.
The desires of people like Roorda to further reduce police departments to cloistered fortresses which gather information but never let any leave is not only a threat to the press and the rights of citizens to know how they are being policed, but it is also a threat to criminal justice.
In the wake of the tragic shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, citizens and the media need to consider the implications of this proposed amendment to the Sunshine Law.