Despite its reputation as a liberal, progressive state, California has long held some of the strictest laws in the country regarding public access to internal police records.
California also has one of the highest rates of officer-involved shootings in the country, and civil liberties activists and families of people killed in police shootings have long sought better access to these records.
On the first of this year, a landmark state law passed last year went into effect which allows members of the public to request access to those records, including video, disciplinary reports and investigative records into police shootings. But there has been pushback from the law enforcement community with regards to whether the law should apply to incidents that happened before January 1, 2019 when the law went into effect. Police unions across the state, including those for officers in the city of Los Angeles, Ventura, San Bernardino and Riverside Counties, have filed suit to block the law from applying to pre-2019 incidents. Some, like LAPD Chief Michel Moore, argue that the administrative and financial burden that accessing, redacting, and reproducing these records would create is too much for law enforcement agencies to handle. Others argue that if the law were to apply to pre-2019 incidents, it would be a violation of officers’ privacy rights because they would have made the decisions they did under the assumption that their records would remain sealed. The ACLU and others who support the law applying to pre-2019 incidents say that if it weren't designed to do just that, it wouldn't have an impact for a long time and essentially lose its power. They add that this law only applies to serious misconduct cases like sexual assault, lying officially, or questionable uses of deadly force.
Today on AirTalk, we’ll hear perspectives from the civil liberties and law enforcement sides of this issue and explore the privacy and transparency concerns at hand.
Melanie Ochoa, staff attorney for criminal justice and police practices at the ACLU of Southern California
Jacob Kalinski, partner at Rains Lucia Stern St. Phalle & Silver, PC, where he also heads the firm’s Southern California Labor Litigation Group; his firm is representing several law enforcement unions, including the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, in the lawsuits against AB 1421