Having passed the Legislature, three bills that could significantly increase public awareness of alleged and confirmed instances of police violence or other misconduct as well as the standards set by official policy to govern police activities are on their way to Governor Brown’s desk.
SB 1421 by Skinner (D-Berkeley) Release of Records of Peace Officer Violence, Sexual Assaults
This bill would require, “notwithstanding any other law,” disclosure of , in the words of the Legislative Counsel’s Digest, “certain peace officer or custodial officer personnel records and records relating to specified incidents, complaints, and investigations involving peace officers and custodial officers to be made available for public inspection pursuant to the California Public Records Act.”
That information would include a record “relating to the report, investigation, or findings of any of the following:
- “An incident involving the discharge of a firearm at a person by a peace officer or custodial officer.
- “An incident in which the use of force by a peace officer or custodial officer against a person resulted in death, or in great bodily injury.
- “(A)n incident in which a sustained finding was made by any law enforcement agency or oversight agency that a peace officer or custodial officer engaged in sexual assault involving a member of the public.”
More specifically disclosure would include
- all investigative reports;
- photographic, audio, and video evidence;
- transcripts or recordings of interviews;
- autopsy reports;
- all materials compiled and presented for review to the district attorney or to any person or body charged with determining whether to file criminal charges against an officer in connection with an incident, or whether the officer’s action was consistent with law and agency policy for purposes of discipline or administrative action, or what discipline to impose or corrective action to take;
- documents setting forth findings or recommended findings; and copies of disciplinary records relating to the incident, including any letters of intent to impose discipline, any documents reflecting modifications of discipline due to the Skelly or grievance process, and letters indicating final imposition of discipline or other documentation reflecting implementation of corrective action.
Records so disclosed could be redacted only
- to remove personal data or information such as a home address, telephone number, or identities of family members, other than the names and work-related information of peace officers and custodial officers,
- to preserve the anonymity of complainants and witnesses, or
- to protect confidential medical, financial, or other information in which disclosure “would cause an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy that clearly outweighs the strong public interest in records about misconduct by peace officers and custodial officers,” or
- “where there is a specific, particularized reason to believe that disclosure would pose a significant danger to the physical safety of the peace officer, custodial officer, or others.”
The bill would allow the delay of disclosure, as specified, for records relating to an open investigation or court proceeding, subject to certain limitations. And a provision that might reduce the rate of disclosure under the bill states: “A record of a civilian complaint, or the investigations, findings, or dispositions of that complaint, shall not be released pursuant to this section if the complaint is frivolous . . . or if the complaint is unfounded.”
AB 748 by Ting (D-San Francisco) Release of Recording Depicting Peace Officer’s Use of Force
This bill would allow a video or audio recording that relates to an incident involving a peace officer’s use of force, or involving a violation of law or agency policy by a peace officer, to be withheld for 45 calendar days, subject to extensions, if disclosure would substantially interfere with an active investigation. The bill would allow the recording to be withheld if the public interest in withholding the video or audio recording clearly outweighs the public interest in disclosure because the release of the recording would, based on the facts and circumstances depicted in the recording, violate the reasonable expectation of privacy of a subject depicted in the recording, in which case the bill would allow the recording to be redacted to protect that interest. If the agency demonstrated that the reasonable expectation of privacy of a subject depicted in the recording could not adequately be protected through redaction, the bill would require that the recording be promptly disclosed to a subject in the recording or his or her immediate family, if deceased.
SB 978 by Bradford (D-Gardena) Online Postng of Law Enforcement Policies, Standards, Practices
This bill would require the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training, as well as all local law enforcement agencies, to “conspicuously post on their Internet Web sites all current standards, policies, practices, operating procedures, and education and training materials that would otherwise be available to the public if a request was made pursuant to the California Public Records Act.” The bill would take effect in January 2020.