Until the beginning of this year, discipline records for police officers in California were kept under a tight seal.
In Long Beach, for example, any time a police officer shot someone, department officials refused to say even whether that shooting fell within or outside the department’s policies. They argued revealing that information could run afoul of the state’s privacy protections for officers, which were some of the strictest in the nation until now.
On Jan. 1, a landmark police transparency law, SB 1421, went into effect. It allows public access to police records about dishonesty, sexual assault and serious uses of force like police shootings.
In response to the new law, the Long Beach Post has joined forces with more than 30 newsrooms across the state to uncover and report on the newly accessible records.
“This unprecedented cooperation between 33 of California’s newsrooms will shine a light on police misconduct and use of force,” the group, called the California Reporting Project, said in an announcement. “The newsrooms have agreed to set aside competition and work collaboratively given the public service this reporting will provide.”
Since Jan. 1, the group has sent more than 1,100 public-records requests to 675 law-enforcement agencies across California.
So far, 134 agencies have turned over at least some records. The files include examples of misconduct such as a South Pasadena officer who tried to let his mother take responsibility for his DUI crash and a Pomona officer who was accused of having sex with a 17-year-old waitress he met on duty.
Newsrooms including the Long Beach Post, Los Angeles Times, KPCC and the Southern California News Group have sent 17 requests for records to the Long Beach Police Department.
So far, the department hasn’t handed over any documents. Until yesterday, Long Beach police refused to disclose any records that predated Jan. 1, 2019 as police unions across the state argued in court that the law wasn’t explicitly retroactive.
But yesterday, the city announced it would start handing over documents because the last case on that topic has been resolved.
The Post, Times and KPCC are also seeking records the Downey police union has asked a judge to have destroy before they’re released.