Thursday, October 04, 2018

California enacts laws making police records more open

Law-enforcement agencies in the nation's largest state will have to be more open in several ways, as a result of bills passed by the California Legislature and signed by Gov. Jerry Brown.

One "makes accessible an entire new universe of police records which the public has long been unable to access," the California Newspaper Publishers Association reports. Senate Bill 1421 "grants access to police-officer personnel records and the investigations conducted by law-enforcement agencies into their employees. The bill requires three categories of disclosure: in cases where a police officer discharges a firearm or causes a person great bodily injury, or when there has been a substantiated charge against an officer of sexual assault or a serious case of dishonesty, like perjury."

California law "has long allowed access to only information held by police but not the actual records," CNPA reports (emphasis added). Assembly Bill 748 relaxes that ban by requiring disclosure of video or audio footage related to "critical incidents."

In another police-related measure, lawmakers required police agencies to post all "of their standards, policies, practices, operating procedures, and education and training materials that would otherwise be available to the public if a request was made pursuant to the California Public Records Act," CNPA reports. Senate Bill 978 was "a slightly narrower version" of a bill Brown vetoed last year.

A broader bill makes clear that a "requester" of records can recover attorney fees in public-records disputes. The old law was limited to plaintiffs in lawsuits challenging denial of records. Senate Bill 1244 makes clear "that the Legislature has always intended the fee-recovery law to protect requesters who defend the public's right to know, regardless of the requester's technical title in litigation, CNPA reports. "Increasingly, requesters have been sued by agencies in public records dispute, or are drawn into litigation without being the technical 'plaintiff' in the action."

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