California Sheriff's Dept. Tells Journalists It Will Cost $350,000 To Process 48 Use Of Force Cases [Updated]
from the middle-finger-made-of-dollar-signs dept
California law enforcement’s fight against transparency and accountability continues. Since a new law allowing the public to access police misconduct record went into effect, the following has happened:
- The City of Inglewood allowed the Inglewood PD to shred all of its pre-2019 misconduct records.
- A sheriff’s union asked the state Supreme Court to declare that the new law did not apply retroactively. The court declined the union’s premature request.
- Multiple agencies arbitrarily decided the law did not apply retroactively, prompting a number of lawsuits from public records requesters.
- The author of the law stepped up to point out the law was presumed to be retroactive, clarifying the legislative intent.
- The state’s attorney general ignored the law’s author’s statement — which had been sent to him directly — to claim no agency needed to turn over historical misconduct records until the courts sorted this out.
- The courts began sorting this out. So far, two state courts have handed down rulings coming down on the side of retroactivity.
It doesn’t seem likely the state’s courts are going to side with law enforcement agencies and their desire to whitewash their pasts. The legal battles will continue until every avenue of appeal has been exhausted, but until there’s a definitive, unified ruling on the issue, agencies will continue to play keepaway with public records.
With their dirty pasts in jeopardy of being exposed, law enforcement agencies are turning to another favorite dirty trick: pricing records requesters out of the market.
Sara Libby of the Voice of San Diego says the San Diego Sheriff’s Department wants $246,759.32 to process past use of force records. Comparatively, it’s a bargain. There’s a $100,000 markup on the request filed by KPBS, which is seeking the same records from the agency.
The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department estimated it’ll cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to supply police misconduct and use of force records in response to a KPBS request. The agency’s response is the latest development in a battle between law enforcement agencies and media organizations across the state to obtain records recently made available under a new law that took effect January 1.
A Monday letter from the Sheriff’s Department to KPBS said the $354,524.22 fee will cover the cost to review and redact records from 48 use of force cases. It is still estimating the cost for 28 others, the response said.
This is an insane amount of money to charge for records related to 48 use of force cases. The department claims it will need to obtain special equipment to redact audio and video files, and has decided to pass that entire cost on to KPBS despite the fact the equipment will be used to process records requests for years to come. The Sheriff’s Department’s justification for this move? The law says it can and doesn’t require it to determine whether or not it should.
Unsurprisingly, the law enforcement agency may be wrong about the law.
“So that’s actually not currently a citable precedent,” Chadwick said. “It’s not controlling authority on anything, so their reliance on that single precedent is pretty questionable as well.”
Whatever it takes to keep the public from knowing how many bad cops their tax dollars have paid for, I guess. There have been a few agencies in state acting in good faith since the new law went into effect, but the reaction from most has been to further damage their relationships with the public they serve with antagonism, stonewalling, and deliberate obtuseness.
San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore confirmed to KPBS he will not charge to produce newly available records on incidents of use of force or confirmed cases of sexual assault and dishonesty by a deputy. KPBS previously received estimates totaling nearly $400,000 to remove private information from materials for dozens of cases.
Even better, Sheriff Gore appears to realize exactly what message he sent — intentionally or not — by demanding a ridiculous amount of money for the processing of these files.
“We looked at the perception that it creates that we’re trying to circumvent the law and make it cost prohibitive — that is not the intention of what we’re doing,” Gore said in a phone interview.
The department will absord the costs of the new equipment and hire more people to handle the influx of document requests triggered by the new public records law.