Skyler Porras, director of the San José office of the ACLU of Northern California, writes in the San Jose Mercury News that given the swirling controversy over the San Jose Police Department's practice of arresting large numbers of peopleespecially Latinosunder the state public-intoxication law, the department is damaging its reputation by choosing secrecy over transparency.
The law is crystal clear that police officials have the discretion to release these records. But in the absence of a strong local sunshine ordinance in San Jose, as exists in some other California cities like Oakland and San Francisco, they do not have to do so.
The official justification for stamping these arrest reports "top secret" was the claim that they are "records of investigations." But releasing the police reports wouldn't compromise any future investigations because simple intoxication busts don't lead to any further investigation. And any prosecutions or further proceedings for public intoxication arrests that took place in 2007 were closed long ago.
When Porras's office recently submitted a California Public Records Act request for the reports at a city council meeting, the council directed the city manager to create a task force of "stakeholders" to provide broad community consultation on the issue. But if the department provided such a body with the reports it would be waiving its right to withhold them from the ACLU or anyone else. And if the department for that reason declines to provide the task force with the information, Porras asks, "how will the task force members accurately identify the scope and nature of the problem?"