Po­lice records bat­tle reaches state ap­peals court

Antelope Valley Press - - News - By DAISY NGUYEN As­so­ci­ated Press

SAN FRAN­CISCO — The Cal­i­for­nia at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice urged a state ap­peals court Thurs­day to re­frain from or­der­ing it to re­view and pub­licly re­lease a mas­sive trove of records doc­u­ment­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tions into po­lice shoot­ings, use-of-force in­ci­dents and of­fi­cer mis­con­duct.

Lawyers for At­tor­ney Gen­eral Xavier Be­cerra said a trans­parency law that took ef­fect this year never in­tended for his of­fice to com­mit the ex­tra­or­di­nary re­sources needed to vet so many records. They sought to re­verse a lower court’s or­der to turn over the records to news or­ga­ni­za­tions that sued his of­fice.

Deputy At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jen­nifer E. Rosen­berg told a three-judge panel that state law­mak­ers may not have con­sid­ered im­pos­ing “this enor­mous bur­den” on Be­cerra’s of­fice when draft­ing the bill.

“It might have been an over­sight,” she said.

The First Amend­ment Coali­tion and KQED brought the law­suit against Be­cerra and The As­so­ci­ated Press and many other news or­ga­ni­za­tions have joined it.

Their at­tor­ney, Michael T. Risher, said the Leg­is­la­ture specif­i­cally con­sid­ered the cost of the at­tor­ney gen­eral’s com­pli­ance when they passed the law, and ar­gued the pub­lic’s right to know about po­lice mis­con­duct out­weighs the cost of dis­clos­ing such in­for­ma­tion.

“It was a wa­ter­shed law; it elim­i­nates decades of po­lice se­crecy. Of course it’s go­ing to create a bur­den,” Risher said.

The law took ef­fect Jan. 1 but many lo­cal agen­cies re­buffed me­dia at­tempts to ob­tain ex­ist­ing records, ar­gu­ing the law only was in­tended to re­quire the dis­clo­sure of new records. Af­ter lower courts ruled for dis­clo­sure, po­lice unions rep­re­sent­ing San Fran­cisco and Los An­ge­les po­lice de­part­ments and the Los An­ge­les County Sher­iff’s sworn per­son­nel with­drew their law­suits seek­ing to block the re­lease.

But the at­tor­ney’s gen­eral’s of­fice, which is a repos­i­tory for years of lo­cal po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tions, has con­tin­ued fight­ing.

At a news con­fer­ence ear­lier in the week, Be­cerra said his of­fice has re­leased pre-2019 doc­u­ments on agents from its Di­vi­sion of Law En­force­ment. He doesn’t op­pose the re­lease of older doc­u­ments in­volv­ing lo­cal agen­cies but said those agen­cies should be the ones to dis­close them.

“For us it would be an oner­ous obli­ga­tion to have to redo what the (lo­cal) agency is al­ready ob­li­gated to do,” he said. “It would grind to a halt so many of the other things we have to do if all of a sud­den we have to re­di­rect our re­sources away from law en­force­ment and pub­lic safety to do data as­sess­ment and re­lease of in­for­ma­tion that other agen­cies al­ready are do­ing.”

Risher sub­mit­ted to the ap­peals court ev­i­dence that some agen­cies may have or did de­stroy records of in­ter­nal af­fairs be­fore the law took ef­fect. He said it was pos­si­ble those records may still re­side at the at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice be­cause Cal­i­for­nia law re­quires state agen­cies to hold onto records longer than lo­cal gov­ern­ments.

The Cal­i­for­nia Re­port­ing Project, a coali­tion of 40 me­dia out­lets, was formed to mine doc­u­ments made avail­able by the new law. Its mem­bers have filed hun­dreds of pub­lic records records seek­ing po­lice records.

The ap­peals court in San Fran­cisco has up to 90 days to de­cide on Be­cerra’s ap­peal.


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