Another California Court Rules Against Law Enforcement Secrecy, Says Agencies Must Release Old Misconduct Files
from the court-to-cops:-POLICE!-OPEN-UP! dept
If an appeals court doesn’t step in within the next few days, California law enforcement agencies will have to start handing out police misconduct records to records requesters.
Since the new transparency law went into effect at the beginning of this year, California police unions have been rushing to stop it from having any meaningful effect. The unions are hoping courts will side with their take on the law — a take that allows law enforcement agencies to memory-hole misconduct and use of force files predating the law’s effective date.
The author of the law, Senator Nancy Skinner, made it clear the new law applies retroactively. The state attorney general, Xavier Becerra, chose to ignore the clarification sent directly to his office by the Senator, and claimed the issue of retroactivity was still open.
The issue isn’t as open as Becerra and a few dozen police unions think it is. One court has already said the law should apply retroactively, lifting its temporary injunction pending an appeal. Now another court has sided with the public and greater accountability, stating that the new law can reach old misconduct files.
A Los Angeles judge dealt a blow Tuesday to law enforcement unions trying to limit the scope of a landmark transparency law, ruling that records from shootings, use of force and some misconduct by police officers in California are public even if they occurred before the new law took effect this year.
The decision marks a provisional victory for open-government groups and media organizations that intervened in a case brought by the Los Angeles Police Protective League, which sought to keep records of older incidents confidential.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Mitchell L. Beckloff’s ruling involves records that fall under Senate Bill 1421 — internal investigations into shootings by officers, severe uses of force and confirmed cases of sexual assault and lying by officers.
The expiration date for secrecy — according to this decision — is March 1st. The order will take effect and force affected agencies to start respecting the law that went into effect three months earlier. No doubt this will be appealed, but there’s no indication this judge is willing to hand out a temporary injunction to the unions while they fight the inevitable. The only option left for agencies to do while the legal war wages on is stonewall requests and overvalue their redaction efforts.