Legislature to Retry Public Release of Peace Officer Records

By Shaun Rundle, Deputy Director

Two years ago, former Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) authored SB 1286, a measure that would publicly release officer personnel records relating to specified incidents, complaints, and investigations. Various law enforcement groups, including CPOA, lobbied hard against that bill’s passage, citing officer safety concerns and the mere fact that most complaints against officers are ultimately deemed unfounded. Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) is reintroducing that bill almost in its entirety this year, as SB 1421. CPOA stands ready to experience a public dialogue heightened by the desire for this bill due to recent events.

SB 1421 does this:

  • PC 832.7-Requires peace officer or custodial records related to specified incidents, complaints, and investigations to be released via PRA.

Information includes (but not limited to):

  • Framing allegation or complaint
  • Facts or evidence collected or considered
  • Any findings or recommended findings, discipline or corrective action taken

Disclosed records can be redacted only to:

  • Remove personal data or information (home address, telephone #, identities of family members).
  • Preserve the anonymity of complainants and witnesses
  • Protect HIPAA information
  • “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 specific, particularized reason to believe that disclosure would pose a significant danger to the physical safety of the peace officer, custodial officer, or others.”

CPOA has responded to Senator Skinner’s office with our opposition to SB 1421, noting the similar concerns we had to SB 1286 a few years ago. These concerns include that California statute already requires law enforcement agencies to obtain and investigate citizens’ complaints. The profession is unique in that regard; no other profession is required by law to do so. The counterbalance to that mandate is the privacy of those files unless cause can be shown to disclose them. In the appropriate circumstances complaints against officers are disclosed under well-established current law.

To require disclosure in every case would be unfair in a process by which an agency is required to take and investigate complaints and its officers have little or no control over any complaint that may be made against him or her, or the resultant investigation thereof. SB 1421 would unjustly eliminate current protections for peace officers, who have a unique job responsibility and are often subject to fabricated claims of misconduct.

SB 1421 is being heard in Senate Public Safety Committee this week, and can be found here.