Transparency

California Supreme Court Turns Away Attempt to Keep Police Misconduct Records Sealed

A law that forced open decades of secret information about law enforcement behavior is slowly being implemented.

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Old records
Sharyn126 / Dreamstime.com

It's happening, Californians! We are finally, truly, actually—after decades of state-enforced, police-union-manipulated secrecy—going to start getting access to some records related to misconduct by law enforcement officers.

On Wednesday, the California Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge to a new law implemented at the start of the year unsealing and allowing public and media access to certain types of records related to police conduct. The law is intended to end years of secrecy that have made it impossible for the public to find out when a police officer had been found to engage in misconduct on the job. The secrecy was so strong that even prosecutors and defense attorneys struggled to find out about any past behavior by an officer that might compromise a criminal case.

But when the law was implemented, police unions across the state went to court to block the release of old records, claiming that the law only covers new records produced starting in 2019. This was clearly not what lawmakers intended when they wrote the law (and publicly said so). Several courts put temporary injunctions in place stopping the release of these records while they grappled with whether the law was retroactive.

Ultimately, judges began to determine that, yes, SB 1421 was retroactive. After a Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled against unions for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and the Los Angeles Police Department, one union asked the state Supreme Court to weigh in. On Wednesday, the high court declined, leaving in place the lower court's decision.

In Los Angeles, at least, this means that law enforcement officers are now responding to these records requests. Reason received an email this week informing us that a request that had previously been temporarily denied due to an injunction—the discipline records of new Los Angeles Sheriff Alex Villanueva—was now being processed (for his part, Villanueva has recently declared support for the transparency law).

Other police unions are responding by trying to get old personnel records destroyed. In Downey, California, the police union is trying to get a judge to force the city to destroy old files, claiming that it's the city's policy to only store them for five years. The city attorney has responded that the policy is that the files are stored for a minimum of five years. It doesn't set an expiration date.

Meanwhile, in Sacramento, Democratic Attorney General Xavier Becerra, is apparently still threatening a pair of journalists who were "erroneously" sent a database of police officers in the state who had been convicted of crimes over the past decade. The journalists have been ordered to destroy the records and threatened with legal action, potentially misdemeanor charges, if they do not.

Experts have noted that this confidentiality law specifically exempts journalists. Becerra apparently isn't even really aware of the contours of the law he's invoking to try to stop the publication of the names of officers who have been convicted—convicted in some cases, it's worth noting, of serious crimes. He's getting blasted for his ignorance by editorial boards and First Amendment experts.

So while the arc of this fight is trending towards greater transparency about police misconduct in the state, there's still some arguing over the limits of what the public is and is not allowed to see.

NEXT: Kirstjen Nielsen and John Kelly Keep Lying About 'Zero Tolerance' and Child Snatching, While Donald Trump Tells the Truth

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  1. I’d like to make a suggestion if I could.

    From now on, please replace ‘unions’ with ‘unicorns’ in your reporting.

    1. Then how will we be able to distinguish between organized labor and women that are super hot and not crazy?

      1. We’ll just have to make the best of it by using context.

        1. So we have to get convicted felons to type our posts in for us?

          1. Yeah, no pictures for those bad boys. The ones on good behavior can probably handle a little italics and bolds.

  2. Can we all just get along?

  3. How dare those bastards on the California Supreme Court turns away Attempts to keep police misconduct records sealed!
    Don’t those butt brains realize there is no such thing as misconduct by our helpful and benign cops in our beloved police state?
    Beating, torturing, shooting and framing a few hundred thousand people by the cops only serves to send a message to the illiterate, unwashed masses of who is in charge and any deviation from the norms of our wise oppressors handed down to us will result in quick, merciless and judicious corrective action by our ruling elites.
    These politically incorrect fools who handed down this egregious decision should be publicly flogged.
    But only until their dead.
    We don’t want to over do it.

    1. Your plan is flawed in that if we do this flogging In response to allowing the public to see misconduct, then the misconduct will be seen by the public! How will you get away with flogging?

  4. I look forward to the coming shit storms and the gnashing of teeth and wailing of lamentations of the police unicorns.

    1. gnashing of teeth and wailing of lamentations of the police unicorns

      See how much easier it is to visualize?

      1. Except whirled peas. I keep mixing up Kermit and Mr Bill.

        1. I’ve also heard

          No Jesus, no peas

          1. stop the violins!

            1. You don’t like sax and violins?

              1. But they don’t fit on the thin LCD and plasma screens we have these days.

              2. ha. everything zen (there’s no sax in your violins)

  5. Why would the public think they’re entitled to public records on public servants? Next they’re going to think that the public has some sort of right to go into this room and write down a name and whoever collects the most names goes and represents their needs in the capital area.

  6. All joking aside, I don’t understand what the legal argument was to go to court to keep these records hidden.

    1. It’s part of the “Cops Are Special” clause of the constitution.

  7. Pass the popcorn!

    1. More like cop porn, right?

  8. Stay at home mom Kelly Richards from New York after resigning from her full time job managed to average from $6000-$8000 a month from freelancing at home… This is how she done it

    ???????????? http://www.Net440.com

  9. Public records belong to the public that pays for them. Full stop.

  10. Seriously, this is not an easy issue. I get that we want to be able to review employment records for public employees, especially police, for certain behaviors. Balanced vs their right to privacy, and all of our own right to privacy. I always enjoy the golden rule test. If you were in that job. Would you be OK with that?

  11. Cheer when cops are shot in their fucking faces

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