Months After The Law's Enactment, California Law Enforcement Agencies Are Still Blowing Off Public Records Requests

from the it's-like-they-think-they're-above-the-law-or-something dept

It's been more than six months since a new law in California opened the books on police misconduct and use of force records. And there are still agencies stiff-arming public records requests. Law enforcement agencies aren't known for their transparency and accountability, which is why laws like California's are needed to force these obligations on them. But while violations of state law might get a resident arrested, they seem to be a bit powerless when it comes to making law enforcement behave in a legal fashion.

The Desert Sun reports it still hasn't heard back from a number of agencies it's sent requests to. In some cases, it appears an effort is being made but the responding agencies are just understaffed.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva acknowledged earlier this year that public records requests were "stacking up." He has said he's asked the county Board of Supervisors for funding to hire more people to handle requests.

This excuse would be a hell of a lot more legitimate if the Sheriff's Office hadn't had months of advance notice. It had a chance to staff up prior to the law's enactment date, but it chose to wait until several months after that to start asking for help.

Thus ends the roundup of quasi-legitimate excuses for dodging accountability obligations. And even this one is still mainly horseshit. The Desert Sun reports the "we're doing what we can!" Sheriff has refused to search for records in response to requests, demanding requesters identify the specific cases they're seeking -- something that, in most cases, they can't possibly know until after they've gained access to records.

What follows from there is a list of non-compliant agencies:

Both the Orange County Sheriff's Department and the Long Beach Police Department have yet to release any records to KPCC/LAist, the Los Angeles Times, the Orange County Register or KQED.

The Los Angeles County Probation Department, which supervises youths held in detention, has declined to release records, claiming disclosure of records about cases involving minors is prohibited by law. Records from the department, which also supervises adults, could be redacted to remove names of protected individuals.

This is no longer a question of law. Courts have repeatedly held the new law is retroactive, making records generated prior to the beginning of this year responsive to requests. The state's Attorney General, Xavier Becerra, has apparently decided to see how much of this year he can spend with his head up his ass. He's appealing a decision by a judge granting access to records involving the state's DOJ… which still has yet to release the records it was ordered to release.

Other agencies have been a bit more compliant. The San Francisco PD has released a handful of records on four shootings by officers and the LAPD is continuing to release files on a rolling basis. In both cases, these agencies have upped their staffing to handle the influx of requests -- all without complaining publicly about their obligations.

Other agencies have chosen to go the route of antagonistic compliance -- following the letter of the law while making it very clear they hate everything about the law and every requester taking advantage of it.

The Los Angeles Sheriff's Department charged KPCC/LAist $1,655 to redact audio from shooting investigations [...]. The department has yet to provide the tapes.

The city of Bakersfield estimated that reviewing the audio and body camera footage related to a single shooting would cost about $6,621.60. Footage related to cases from the past five years, when Bakersfield Police shot 28 people, would cost an estimated $185,000.

West Sacramento estimated it would cost $25 per minute to redact its footage, meaning the material from five shootings would cost $25,000 in total.

The best way to close a marketplace you've been forced to enter is to price everyone out of it. This is an old school public records tactic, one designed to dissuade the general public from holding their public institutions accountable for their misbehavior.

And this doesn't even include the list of agencies who saw the legislative writing on the wall last year and started destroying old records before the public could start asking for them.

All of this adds up to a very ugly display of arrogance and disdain for the general public by the state's law enforcement agencies. There are a few standout agencies fully complying with the letter and the spirit of the law, but for the most part, law enforcement agencies are operating in go-fuck-yourself mode when it comes to public records requests. The end result will be an even greater divide between the police and the policed.

Filed Under: california, foia, police, police misconduct, transparency


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 8 Jul 2019 @ 8:48pm

    You would think they were private instead of publicly funded

    The way these enforcement agencies are acting, you would think they had their own lawyers and funding and didn't need to follow the law. Sadly they seem to be correct since no one is forcing them to turn over records or face termination of their pay and benefits.

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

    • identicon
      AnonyOps, 10 Jul 2019 @ 2:12am

      Re: You would think they were private instead of publicly funded

      Criminal charges and impeachment might remedy these situations before we decide to nuke the planet from orbit.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Jul 2019 @ 3:35am

    It may take a while ...

    but when a country sheriff is thrown in jail for a month for failing to comply, the complying will quickly begin.

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

    • icon
      wshuff (profile), 9 Jul 2019 @ 4:34am

      Re: It may take a while ...

      Who is going to throw the sheriff in jail? His deputies? The FBI? If they thumb their noses at turning over records, I think they’ll give the big middle finger to policing their own.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 9 Jul 2019 @ 4:54pm

        Re: Re: It may take a while ...

        Citizens. But he's armed and trained for combat situations so he'll inevitably resist. Which means there's no need to worry about building a makeshift jail to hold him in after the arrest; nothing is more important than everyone trying to arrest him being able to go home to their families that night after all.
        This is what prosecutors and courts both say is the right thing to do whenever police are the ones doing the arrest instead thus it is only rightto follow police procedures properly.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 9 Jul 2019 @ 9:30pm

        Re: Re: It may take a while ...

        Work their way down the entire department list in alphabetical order. If they refuse a lawful order to do their duty they are fired with cause.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Jul 2019 @ 11:09am

    West Sacramento estimated it would cost $25 per minute to redact its footage, meaning the material from five shootings would cost $25,000 in total.

    If a government agency is going to quote an outrageous price for fulfilling a public records request, they should be required to provide detailed justification. Just how exactly are they coming to that $25/minute figure?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Jul 2019 @ 4:51pm

    So just do what law enforcement would do

    They're refusing to comply, so it's time for nighttime no-knock raids on their homes and maximal taser usage. They're armed and their dogs are likely trained to attack so it's important to take no chances: hesitation risks the lives of those alongside you.

    Either they'll finally agree and/or they keep twitching while your colleagues go get the files.

    We are quite regularly told that this is the proper, non-illegal legitimate way to handle these situations, so if this is not done, the criminals win.

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

  • identicon
    R,og S/, 10 Jul 2019 @ 9:40am

    Stoopid, over-armed, gang stalking pigs, always have money for MRAPs, donuts, Fusion Center save -the -Joos terrorism manufacturing, and Stingrays, but never enough money for policing FOIAs.

    Gotta love the feminists, screamin FAKERAAAAAAPE all the time, but never screaming “police accountability! !!”

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

  • identicon
    R,og S/, 10 Jul 2019 @ 9:53am

    re: forgot to mention

    Not enough cops, fbi agents, dhs, etalphabet agents, and ADLified community policing cowards (especially them ) get shot in the face with legally owned weapons, second amendment protected weapons - every time they kick in a door in the gray areas of law and order, aka DVIC policing.

    That would be cool. Whatever “that ” is....

    Gee, I hope those cunts dont come gunning for me now, whoever “those cunts ” are....!

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


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