Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Police Transparency

San Jose City Councilmember Pete Constant's office left me a message last week. I called back, and one of his staff wanted to confirm my contact information. I confirmed his office had my correct email address and contact information. Then, right before the end of the conversation, I was asked if my mom was the head of the household. I said yes--after all, what son doesn't think his mom rules the household? (And we all know if momma ain't happy, ain't nobody happy, right?)

I've been thinking more about Mr. Constant and his vote against police transparency. Basically, Mr. Constant was one of the deciding votes in a 6-5 vote overruling the Sunshine Task Force's recommendations on police records. When I asked him why he voted against police transparency, he indicated that he followed the lead of the police department and D.A.'s office, and they told him that residents' privacy interests could be negatively impacted. (At the time of the vote, Dolores Carr, who is married to a former SJPD officer, was the D.A.) It appears the police department and/or D.A.'s office may have been less than forthcoming with Mr. Constant, who seems to have accepted their opinions at face value. As I've written before, the Task Force's recommendation would not have negatively impacted privacy interests. In short, six Councilmembers--including Mayor Chuck Reed--voted against government transparency, even after some of them ran on a platform of government transparency.

In retrospect, I don't know why I was surprised to hear Mr. Constant follow the SJPD's lead. It's no secret that Mr. Constant--who will be term-limited out of his current Council position--has his sights set on the Santa Clara County Sheriff's position. To win that election, he needs the support of the police unions. Although Mr. Constant and his family are beneficiaries of multiple government pensions, Mr. Constant continues to be attracted to public service and/or government power. Why should we care?

America was founded on a system of checks and balances. A Councilmember is supposed to represent the people, not the police. If Mr. Constant didn't bother doing his due diligence when he was representing the people of San Jose, how will he act if he is in charge of the police? Although Mr. Constant deserves kudos for his generally high work ethic, I hope he has another chance to show us whether his loyalties reside with local police unions or San Jose residents. And I hope he--and Chuck Reed--get it right next time.

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