Legislation to Open Cops’ Records and Punish Agencies Who Don’t Comply with Public Requests to be Reintroduced at Capitol

Senator Nancy Skinner at a Justice Collaborative event in San Francisco in March

STATE CAPITOL – Legislation that would greatly expand public access to peace officer records and penalize jurisdictions who don’t comply with the disclosures will be reintroduced in the state Legislature Dec. 7, said Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) Monday.

The previous measure, SB 776. received bi-partisan support this past legislative session Assembly – it was approved 53-15 – but failed to be heard by the full Senate before the constitutional deadline.

The reintroduced bill would open public access to records of officers who have engaged in biased or discriminatory behavior, conducted unlawful arrests or searches, or used force that is excessive or unreasonable, said Skinner’s officer Monday.

The new measure expands SB 1421, authored by Skinner, which became law in 2019 and “lifted the complete secrecy on officer conduct that was California policy for over four decades,” according to a Skinner office statement Monday.

SB 1421 made public a limited set of police records on use of deadly force, on-the-job sexual assault, and certain types of dishonest acts. However, departments and officers could avoid compliance with SB 1421 if an officer accused of misconduct quit before a disciplinary investigation was complete, and thus keep their records secret.

But the new bill would “ensure that officers with a history of misconduct can’t just quit their jobs, keep their records secret, and move on to continue bad behavior in another jurisdiction,” according to a statement by Skinner.

“Communities deserve tools to hold law enforcement accountable. Expanding and strengthening access to police records is one such tool,” Sen. Skinner said. “This legislation also shines a light on officers who have a history of racist, discriminatory, or abusive behavior.”

Another hurdle that SB 1421 struggled with was compliance by cities and counties that found ways to delay release of peace officer records and charge exorbitant fees for those seeking the information. Many agencies “dragged their feet” or just refused to release records.

The new legislation apparently seeks to remedy that, establishing civil penalties for jurisdictions that “fail to release records in a timely manner and mandate that agencies can only charge for the cost of duplicating records,” said Monday’s statement.

“The new legislation expands the categories of records that the public can access, addresses roadblocks agencies have used to avoid releasing records, and closes loopholes that keep misconduct records under wraps,” said Monday’s statement by Skinner, noting the legislation would:

  • Open access to incidents involving use of force to force to those that are unreasonable or excessive/
  • Provide access to records of sustained findings on officers who have engaged in racist or biased behavior or conducted unlawful arrests or searches.
  • Mandate that records be released if an officer quits before a misconduct investigation is complete.
  • Require that agencies, before hiring a candidate who has prior law enforcement experience, review that officer’s prior history of complaints, disciplinary hearings, and uses of force.
  • Mandate that agencies keep sustained records of misconduct indefinitely.
  • Bar agencies from claiming attorney-client privilege to keep otherwise public records secret.
  • Prohibit agencies from charging more than the actual cost of copying records.
  • Allow a court to issue civil fines of up to $1,000 a day for agencies that fail to release records and damage awards when an agency is sued for not releasing records or improperly redacting them.

“Hiding officer misconduct is not good for anyone. It undermines the public’s trust and gives cover to officers who may be unfit for the job,” Skinner added. “By adding sunshine, this legislation will help restore community trust.”

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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