Records Requests Show Even More California Police Departments Started Destroying Records Before The Public Could Get Its Hands On Them

from the crosscutting-accountability dept

More details are coming to light about California's opacity activists. Faced with impending transparency, a handful of law enforcement agencies decided to fire up the shredders rather than risk turning over police conduct records to the public under the new public records law.

Inglewood's police department was given the go-ahead to shred years of responsive documents last December in a council meeting that produced no record of discussion on the matter or the council's determination.

Public records requests filed after the new law went into effect in January uncovered moves made by the Fremont city council to help local police rid themselves of records the public might try to request. The city lowered the retention period for officer-involved shooting records from 25 years to ten and allowed the department to destroy 45 years of police misconduct records it had decided to hold onto until it became inconvenient for it to do so.

Darwin BondGraham of The Appeal has discovered even more record destruction by California law enforcement agencies occurring ahead of the law's implementation.

Union City, a suburb adjacent to Fremont, also destroyed a large number of police records in June 2018 while SB 1421 was moving through the legislature toward the governor’s desk for signature.

Police shredded reviews of officer-involved shootings, vehicle collisions resulting from high-speed pursuits, and use of force reports from 1983 to 2015, according to documents obtained through a public records request.

In addition to these records, Union City police memory-holed 12 records detailing incidents in which officers fired their service weapons, including two "unintentional" shootings.

Meanwhile, over in Livermore, more police records were being purged, although city officials claim the destruction of records prior to the new law taking effect was just "routine" yearly destruction, rather than an attempt to rid the PD of documents it would rather not hand over to requesters. Routine document destruction is indeed part of most government agencies' practices, but some of what was done during this last purge seems anything but "routine."

Livermore is in the process of destroying files for 27 complaints made to the police department’s internal affairs unit during 2012, according to documents obtained through a public records request. A list of files doesn’t reveal the allegations in these cases, whether they were sustained, or whether any officers were disciplined.

Also on Livermore’s list of records to destroy are hundreds of use of force reports spanning 2008 to 2012, and six reviews of officer-involved shootings that occurred in 2009, 2011, and 2012.

While it's true California law only mandates retaining these records for five years, the purges happening here (and elsewhere in the state) show police departments are holding onto these records for much longer than they're legally required to. These records must have some value to the agencies if they're willing to retain them this long. And if they have value to police departments, they certainly are of some value to the general public, which deserves to know how the police forces they pay for are behaving.

Departments are willing to hold onto misconduct/shooting records for decades, but only start destroying them when it looks like they might have to share. Agencies can point to mandated retention periods all they want, but the argument doesn't wash if they're only sticklers about it when transparency is being forced on them.

Filed Under: california, destruction, foia, police records, public records, transparency


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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 26 Apr 2019 @ 6:12pm

    Might as well print 'We are SUPER corrupt' shirts at this point

    No really, could you be a little more obvious that you're destroying incriminating records? I think there might be a penguin or two on some remote chunk of ice that hasn't yet figured out that all this destruction of evidence just as a law was passed to allow the public access is a dead giveaway that the various departments have lots of damning records they'd like to keep out of the public's hands.

    If the law has had one major unintended side-effect, it's in highlighting which departments are just moderately corrupt, and which ones are completely rotten top to bottom.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
      identicon
      Aducanumab ... I've forgotten what that is..., 26 Apr 2019 @ 8:10pm

      Re: Might as well print 'We are SUPER corrupt' shirts at this po

      No really, could you be a little more obvious that you're destroying incriminating records?

      That shows your sheer bias. You have zero evidence -- yes, for the lack -- but you have already judged them.

      The police are then justified in keeping records from the hands of those who are not investigating but have already condemned them and need only some hook to hang a charge on. -- Does it at all occur to you that you are doing exactly what you so often accuse the police of?

      Thanks for so well exampling my point below. (I didn't even read yours first! Just know how you pirates think.)

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Damien, 26 Apr 2019 @ 8:26pm

        Re: Re: Might as well print 'We are SUPER corrupt' shirts at thi

        They're destroying conduct records the moment it looks like they may have to release them to the public. Your trolling is going to fall on deaf ears here, because pointing out that such conduct is a giant corruption red flag is hardly "bias".

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 26 Apr 2019 @ 11:33pm

        Re: Re: Might as well print 'We are SUPER corrupt' shirts at thi

        Have you heard of the adverse inference doctrine? If they don't care about the information within the documents, why destroy them?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Stephen T. Stone (profile), 27 Apr 2019 @ 8:33am

        The police are then justified in keeping records from the hands of those who are not investigating but have already condemned them and need only some hook to hang a charge on.

        The general public is justified in believing the police are corrupt if they refuse to hand over records that can better shine a light on the behavior of officers whose salaries are paid by the general public. “Nothing to fear, nothing to hide”, right?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 27 Apr 2019 @ 3:00pm

          Records = Accountabity

          the public is forced to get involved because the internal police supervisory and disciplinary management does not work reliably.
          Cops protect their own as much as possible -- and they have been granted extraordinary legal privileges to keep secreta and act outside the laws that apply to everyone else.

          Police Chiefs, Police Commissioners, Mayors, Governors, legislators, etc. are supposed to closely supervise the guys they give badges and guns to -- but that often doesn't happen. Police departments become unaccountable fiefdoms.
          The public ends up scrambling to protect itself from its heavily armed public servants.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 27 Apr 2019 @ 10:41am

        Re: Re: Might as well print 'We are SUPER corrupt' shirts at thi

        "Just know how you pirates think." What the **** has this to do with so-called pirates? This charmless twerp seems to bring up alleged pirating on any excuse. What a total and complete idiot.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Aducanumab ... I've forgotten what that is..., 26 Apr 2019 @ 8:04pm

    It's routine for Techdirt to innuendo against police.

    Routine document destruction is indeed part of most government agencies' practices, but some of what was done during this last purge seems anything but "routine."

    The inescapable conclusion from long-term reading here is that you left-lib-commies intend to raise every possible objection based solely on hatred of police -- not what they've actually done, but at Techdirt you clearly hate the police as such and love law-breaking. Whether it's cheering when drug mules get loose on technicality, or hoping that those who download child porn will escape by way of a mere Court Rule, advocating piracy, hating on Copyright and Patents, or advocating unlimited immigration besides not informing ICE when dangerous criminals are released (see the Massachusetts judge who's now indicted for helping one slip away), you appear to simply hate police and give every aid to criminals. -- Therefore the police are justified in removing so much as possible from sheer troublemakers. Left-lib-commies are NOT trying to make a better society any more, only to disrupt any way can.

    Frankly, I'm sure that you've forgotten any good purpose you might have once had, and just go with these pieces as routine filler. You have no passion. You neglect much larger outrages against justice like the Jussie Smollet hoax -- and the even larger scandal of it being dropped that outraged even Rahm Emanuel -- because doesn't suit your agend.

    These records must have some value to the agencies if they're willing to retain them this long.

    No. Bureaucracies file papers regardless. -- But they're certainly a hazard now! No cop wants to get tangled in meaningless cases long past. (Yes, I know I'm assuming, but that's likely.) Unintended consequence of well-intentioned law, huh?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 26 Apr 2019 @ 8:23pm

      Re:

      Keep gobbling that cop cock, blue.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 27 Apr 2019 @ 8:51am

      What the police have done is destroy documents related to officer conduct. What they have done is make sure the people who pay officer salaries — the general public — cannot now, and will never in the future, know exactly which officers have been accused of misconduct. What they have done is make it that much harder for taxpayers to hold the police accountable for their actions. The public deserves to know who may or may not be a “bad cop” because the public is ultimately affected by that officer’s actions.

      We do not cheer for the release of criminals whose guilt is all but provable in a court of law. We cheer, instead, for due process and the upholding of civil rights for all people — regardless of the crime they are accused of committing. Upholding the rights of and protections for the worst criminal offenders ensures they will be in place if you are ever considered “guilty until proven innocent”. But the police, in their zeal to protect their own, have given officers a special right that neither you nor I can avail ourselves of: The right to hide information about their conduct from the general public.

      So-called “left lib commies” criticize and insult the police because the police refuse to let the public hold officers accountable for their actions. Police unions across the country do everything they can to shield “bad cops” from being fired (or get them re-hired elsewhere); any level of accountability from the public is a level too much for them. That is why we criticize the destruction of conduct records, why we criticize attempts to hide “bad cops” from the public’s eye until they go a step too far and cannot be hidden. If the police are such fine, upstanding, better-than-everyone-else people who never make mistakes and never cross the line, what reason would they have to destroy the records that would prove as much?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Stephen T. Stone (profile), 27 Apr 2019 @ 8:52am

        Oh, and one more thing…

        You accuse people of “advocating [for] unlimited immigration”. Can you cite any direct, serious, absolutely unmistakable advocacy for unlimited immigration that has ever happened on Techdirt?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 27 Apr 2019 @ 9:18am

        Re:

        I know more dyed-in-the-wool conservatives than anyone centrist to liberal who have issues with police. It's funny sometimes where their adoration of authority ends defense of their freedoms begins.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Rog S., 30 Apr 2019 @ 2:40am

      Re: It's routine for Techdirt to innuendo against police.

      ...aaaand, in case anyone wonders what the voice of a demented fascist looks like in print, read the flagged comment above.

      Gee, I hope one of those crazed immigrants/ escaped drug mule/FBI-distributed child porn downloaders who escape on technicalities like,"silly due process"/ pirates unspecified doesnt somehow manage to slip a bullet between your eyes.

      Haha. Just kidding.

      We all know the good guys and girlies,at the FBI/Sherrifs departments/NCMEC/Sooper Seekrit Agencies-unspecified-in-court-documents dont distribute child porn.....

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 26 Apr 2019 @ 8:25pm

    If you have nothing to hide...

    burn all of the records of it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Apr 2019 @ 9:17pm

    Ha this is nothing compared to what the LAPD did to documents and actual evidence related to the death of Robert Kennedy. Google that some time and prepare to be angry.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Glenn, 27 Apr 2019 @ 5:05am

    I guess cops (and govt officials) everywhere are the same--afraid of the people who pay them for the jobs they're supposed to be doing (and that those people will see that they aren't really doing the jobs they're getting paid for).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 27 Apr 2019 @ 6:15am

      Re: cops (and govt officials) everywhere

      ::: but the dominant political theory is that government workers are inherently far more honest than private sector employees -- because a guaranteed government paycheck removes the greedy self-interest profit motivation that supposedly corrupts private businesses and their personnel.

      Therefore, government paycheck and government job title transform ordinary people into selfless public servants who can justly supervise the entire populace.

      Only fools would believe this, yet it is the core ideological premise for most American government activity today.
      Power-Corrupts seems the more correct premise.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 27 Apr 2019 @ 8:16am

        Re: Re: cops (and govt officials) everywhere

        Either that or maybe some of them think they are entitled to preferential treatment, they certainly get a lot of it even when they do not deserve it.

        It it humorous to listen to some of these entitled folk talk about how they pulled themselves up by their own boot straps and became self made. LOL, what a crock. And then they go even further by complaining about the lack of personal responsibility of the many less fortunate. They never did find that welfare queen Ronny was talking about.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 27 Apr 2019 @ 9:27am

        Re: Re: cops (and govt officials) everywhere

        Most government workers have zero power, and some at pay grades that they could only be doing the job for love or principles. Of course, extremely bloated agencies and those which do wield power tend to have more asshats in them.

        There is a lot of governance and service done fairly well to excellent. Some of it you don't even notice until some fuckwit(s) trash their ability to do their jobs.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          lhcq, 27 Apr 2019 @ 1:38pm

          Re: Re: Re: cops (and govt officials) everywhere

          vv "There is a lot of governance and service done fairly well to excellent."

          do you include cops in that generalization?

          what portion of 'governance and services' is necessary to citizens -- and how much is unnecessary pork, bloat, Nanny-Statism?

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 28 Apr 2019 @ 1:32pm

          Re: zero power

          guess you have never encountered DMV clerks, TSA airport agents, or IRS employees

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Apr 2019 @ 11:10am

    Although the timing is suspicious, the records may have been retained out of simple inertia. Back when they had no legal obligation to disclose the records, their choice was between do nothing with the records, which is easy, or destroy the records, which is work (especially if the law provides different retention periods for different types of records, in which case they would have to read the records to figure out which ones were now old enough). Doing nothing is always easier than doing something, so they did nothing and let old records sit. Now that transparency is legally required, they have a motivation to go destroy the records. Embarrassing records are of course desirable to destroy to keep them secret, but even destroying innocuous records has value to them now: if they purge everything they are not required to keep, that makes it much quicker to respond to new requests with "Sorry, too old. We trashed that." without even a cursory search. That also keeps them out of court cases arguing that they didn't try hard enough to search, since they can say there is no need to search because they would have already destroyed the documents.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Bill Silverstein (profile), 29 Apr 2019 @ 6:58am

    Consciousness of guilt and spoliation

    If the police are sued, the Plaintiff will argue both consciousness of guilt and spoliation. If the records never existed, how will they show those records never existed in light of the mass destruction of records?

    See CACI No. 204. Willful Suppression of Evidence and CALCRIM No. 371. Consciousness of Guilt: Suppression and Fabrication of Evidence,

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Apr 2019 @ 12:47pm

    The largest GANG in the country, the "Thin Blue Line" Gang!!! The biggest, most corrupt gang there is. Most act like tyrants and the so-called good ones cover up for them, making them just as bad.

    Going out of your way to destroy your records is proof positive how corrupt you really are.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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