New Legislation Seeks to Allow Public Access to Police Misconduct Records

Senator Mark Leno Introduces SB 1286 to Increase Law Enforcement Transparency

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During my training segment at the 2015 PORAC Conference which focused on the history and importance of California’s personnel record confidentiality laws, I predicted that the next phase of the nationwide debate on police accountability would involve a targeted effort to erode the significant privacy protections afforded to police misconduct records. (Click here to access my 2015 PORAC Conference Materials.) As it turns out, we did not have to wait long for that prediction to come true.  Today, Senator Mark Leno of San Francisco introduced Senate Bill 1286, which is specifically designed to increase public access to police misconduct records.

Amid a national conversation over police shootings and a push for law enforcement reform in San Francisco, Senator Leno has announced that he seeks to “improve transparency, accountability and trust between law enforcement and the public” by amending Penal Code Sections 832.5 and 832.7 (which establishes personnel record confidentiality), Evidence Code sections 1043 and 1045 (which sets out the process to gain access to confidential police records though Pitchess Motions), and Government Code section 3304.5 (which gives officers the right to appeal misconduct findings).   Although Senator Leno invited the American Civil Liberties Union to assist in drafting the bill, he did not contact law enforcement for any input.  Even now, he has not yet provided copies of the bill for law enforcement review.

Senator Leno’s published fact sheet on “Increasing Law Enforcement Transparency” reveals that the bill is designed to:

  • “Allow the public to access records related to sustained charges of serious misconduct, including sexual assault, racial or identity profiling, illegal search or seizure, job-related dishonesty, or legal violation of the rights of a member of the public, among others;”
  • “Allow the public to access records relating to any use of force that causes or is likely to cause death or serious bodily injury;”
  • “Allow people who file complaints alleging misconduct to access basic information related to the complaint, including whether the complaint was sustained, the factual findings, and any discipline imposed or corrective actions taken;”
  • “Allow localities to determine if they would like to hold public hearings and administrative appeals based on allegations of peace officer misconduct;
  • “Allow law enforcement records to be withheld if a court determines that a privacy interest outweighs the public’s interest in disclosure, or if there is a showing of a significant danger to an officer or another person.”

The last serious effort to increase public access to police misconduct records occurred in 2007 when Senator Gloria Romero co-authored SB 1019 with then Assembly Member Mark Leno to allow public police disciplinary hearings and overrule the decisions in Copley Press v. Superior Court and Berkeley Police Association v. City of Berkeley.  I was honored to work with PORAC to defeat SB 1019, and look forward to collaborating with PORAC again on SB 1286.

 

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