Court Rejects Challenge to California Police Transparency Law

(CN) – The California Supreme Court on Wednesday denied a sheriff union’s request to block a new state law that provides public access to past police-misconduct and use-of-force records.

The San Bernardino County sheriff’s deputies’ union sought an emergency intervention from the California Supreme Court to block the new law before the New Year.

In a petition filed Dec. 18, the union said the new law should only apply to records created after Jan. 1, when the law took effect. It argued California law offers heightened privacy protections to police officers.

Under Senate Bill 1421, access to internal records on police shootings, use of force by officers, complaints on sexual assault by on-duty officers, and other misconduct are available to the public. The law also applies retroactively to records created before 2019.

California-based nonprofit First Amendment Coalition, or FAC, was joined by multiple news organizations in opposition to the union’s request and filed a brief on Dec. 28 to intervene in the case.

But they did not get the chance to join, because the state’s high court denied the police union’s challenge to retroactive application of the law on Wednesday morning.

FAC Executive Director David Snyder said the denial was a great relief.

“The union had sort of a last-ditch effort that would have had significant impact on the entire state,” he said in a phone interview.

In its brief, FAC said the public would suffer if law enforcement agencies were able to sidestep application of the new law because records could be destroyed, and state lawmakers said those records on use of force and misconduct should be made available to the public.

In a statement, the law firm who filed the challenge on behalf of the union to the state’s law said they expect the matter of officers’ records to be litigated in local courts.

“The possibility of multiple lawsuits being filed and litigated in numerous counties throughout the state, and the potential for conflicting decisions at the Superior Court level was the impetus for the action we filed” on behalf of the sheriff’s union, according to the statement.

The union said it was disappointed with the court’s denial of their petition, said union president Grant Ward in a statement. They are looking for other legal options to keep officers’ information from being released.

SB 1421 creates more transparency in police agencies across California. But one city raised the ire of activists when it said last month that it would shred more than 100 police records dating back to 1991.

Inglewood, just outside of Los Angeles, called the destruction of police records a routine purging of “obsolete” materials, according to a Los Angeles Times report.

Community activist Earl Ofari Hutchinson told the LA Times that the city’s decision to shred internal police records “continues a pattern of lack of accountability.”

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