Our Views: Bill dampens accountability

We are concerned that a bill now being considered in the Louisiana Legislature would hamper public accountability for law enforcement officers if the bill becomes a law.

House Bill 244, sponsored by State Rep. Nick Lorusso, R-New Orleans, would make law enforcement agencies, as well as officials in charge of police records within those agencies within those agencies, subject to civil damages if they release an officer’s personnel or disciplinary files without the officer’s consent.

The bill would give the police officer 72 hours to review his own files if a public records request is made for the files. The police officer would have an option to protest the public release of the disciplinary file if he deems the information confidential.

Any agency or custodian of a public record who subsequently releases files determined to be confidential could be sued for civil damages.

This bill, if approved, could have a chilling effect on the release of any disciplinary file for a law enforcement officer. Custodians of public records and law enforcement agencies would be reluctant to sort out — without potentially lengthy and expensive court proceedings — what information might be deemed confidential.

Law enforcement agencies do not, in general, have a very distinguished track record on public transparency concerning disciplinary proceedings for law enforcement officers. HB 244 would further discourage these agencies from being open with the public about how officers are disciplined.

We strongly support law and order, and we appreciate the efforts of honest, competent law enforcement officers who work hard to advance public safety. But law and order is best advanced when the public has confidence that no law enforcement officer is above the law.

Unfortunately, HB 244 seems designed to make secrecy the default position of law enforcement agencies when it comes to public accountability.