Going into effect on January 1, 2019, California residents will gain access to specific records regarding police misconduct (including sexual misconduct), excessive use of force, and dishonesty during investigations. These types of records have been sealed for the past 40 years.
Drafted by East Bay Sen. Nancy Skinner, SB 1421 will require law enforcement agencies to provide police personnel records upon request through the California Public Records Act. For instance, a person can seek the records of a certain officer and any incidents associated with the officer involving the use of a weapon, use of force causing great bodily harm or death, sexual assault on the job, and lying in reporting a criminal offense. These records can be unsealed 18 months after the incident.
The following are the types of records which can be disclosed to the public:
- Investigation records
- Interview recordings
- Evidence collected by law enforcement
- Autopsy reports
- Reports sent to the district attorney
- Copies of disciplinary records
Advocates of the new law believe increased transparency can result in building trust between police officers and the communities they serve and protect. By contrast, those who oppose believe it will have a negative impact on internal investigations and could cause many convicted criminals to seek appeals.
In 1978, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law which required police departments to preserve misconduct records. However, the law posed severe restrictions for public access.
Skinner introduced the bill in response to police shootings which have led to protests throughout the United States, including in Sacramento where Stephon Clark, a 22-year old African American male who was unarmed, was shot and killed by two city officers back in March. She claimed the outcry in Sacramento helped her colleagues address the issues relating to police transparency.
To further police reform throughout California, Brown also signed AB 748, drafted by San Francisco Sen. Phil Ting, which requires the release of police body camera footage involving police shootings and other critical incidents within 45 days. A “critical incident” is defined as use of force or a violation committed by law enforcement.