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 people—especially Latinos—under the state public-intoxication law, the department is damaging its reputation by choosing secrecy over transparency.

According to state law, people cannot be lawfully arrested for public intoxication unless they are so intoxicated that they are a danger to themselves or others or are obstructing use of sidewalks or streets. Officers must document these facts in a police report. Therefore, the obvious starting point for any serious examination of whether police are misusing this law is to review the police reports for these arrests. As the Mercury News reported, there were a whopping 4,661 of them in 2007. Fifty-seven percent of those arrested were Latinos.
    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?"

Stonewalling community concerns about possible police misconduct doesn't lead to resolution. It leads to lawsuits. It leads to investigations by outside agencies — like the about-to-be-revived Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice: During the tenure of the presumptive Obama Attorney General Eric Holder at the Justice Department, the agency targeted local police departments for investigations specifically if they appeared to be stonewalling legitimate local concerns.