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California Police Continue to Withhold Public Records Despite SB 1421

Taking effect on January 1, 2019, Senate Bill 1421 requires California law enforcement to release records—that have been held in secrecy—about officer-involved shootings, excessive use of force, sexual misconduct, and dishonesty.

Yet, not one state agency has provided a single, fully disclosed record since the new law took effect.

An investigation led by the Los Angeles Times, KQED, KPCC, and Bay Area News Group details the legal and financial obstacles presented by police organizations to produce internal affairs files. In addition, some departments have even ignored court orders.

Many police officials insist there has been no wrongdoing and doing their best to release requested records as quickly as possible. Furthermore, they deny any improper action about already destroyed records.

High Fees for Public Records

According to the city of Bakersfield, reviewing video footage and audio from police body cameras from a single shooting would cost nearly $7,000. West Sacramento officials said that redacting police body camera footage would cost $25 per minute.

When KPCC requested shooting footage from the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department, the agency charged the news organization $1,655 to redact the tapes' audio. However, KPCC has yet to receive the tapes.

Destroyed Footage

Many cities have continued to purge older records based on their retention schedules. Police departments in Downey, Fremont, Inglewood, Morgan Hill, and Yuba County have already destroyed years' worth of records before SB 1421 took effect.

However, many of these records that were purged have remained in storage years past their stated retention dates. In fact, the Yuba County Sheriff destroyed records only days after the law passed.

Legal Battle

In addition to the reluctance of releasing records, several police unions have attempted to bar such action from happening, stating that SB 1421 doesn't apply to records of police encounter prior to January 2019.

While most of these state agencies have failed in superior courts and state appeals courts, Ventura County is the only local government that has blocked the release of records while union litigation is still ongoing.

In a June 19 ruling, a Ventura County judge revived the “retroactivity” claim. That is why records prior to 2019 have stayed sealed from public view.

For more information about police conduct in Ventura, contact Wilfert Law P.C. today at