By The Vanguard Staff
SACRAMENTO, CA – The California State Senate late Wednesday approved 31-3 a major expansion of access to police records by the public and, according to supporters, “strengthen law enforcement accountability.”
SB 16, authored by Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, allows the search of records of officers who have engaged in biased or discriminatory behavior, conducted unlawful arrests or searches, or used force that is excessive or unreasonable.
Skinner said BB 16 would also “open access to records of officers who failed to intervene when another officer used unreasonable or excessive force and 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.”
The measure, which now moves to the Assembly, is a follow up to Skinner’s 2018 law that opened public access to a limited set of police records for the first time in over 40 years
“Bad behavior goes unchecked when police operate in secret. We have the right to know if a local officer engages in misconduct. SB 16 provides an essential tool to restore public trust,” Sen. Skinner said.
“And it sends a clear message that officers who engage in racist or discriminatory behavior are not welcome in our communities,” she added.
Before Skinner’s 2018 law, SB 1421, there was virtual complete secrecy on police officer conduct that was California policy for more than four decades.
Last year, a similar measure by Skinner, SB 776, passed the Assembly 53-15, but the Senate failed to OK it by the end of session.
SB 16 expands the categories of police records that the public can access and closes loopholes that keep misconduct records under wraps. The bill would:
• Open access to incidents involving officers who use of force that is unreasonable or excessive.
• Provide access to sustained findings on officers who engaged in racist or biased behavior, conducted unlawful arrests or searches, or failed to intervene when another officer used unreasonable or excessive force.
• Mandate that records be released if an officer quits before a misconduct investigation is complete.
• Require agencies, before hiring a candidate who has prior law enforcement experience, to review that officer’s prior history of complaints, disciplinary hearings, and uses of force.
• Bar agencies from claiming attorney-client privilege to keep otherwise public records secret.
• Mandate that records are made public no later than 45 days from the date of a request for their release.
• Prohibit agencies from charging more than the actual cost of copying records.