After four decades of secrecy, police personnel records finally accessible

Countering 40 years of law to the contrary, SB 1421, a bill that makes accessible an entire new universe of police records which the public has long been unable to access, was signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown.

Specifically, the bill authored by Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) grants access to police officer personnel records and the investigations conducted by law enforcement agencies into their employees. The bill requires three categories of disclosure: in cases where a police officer discharges a firearm or causes a person great bodily injury, or when there has been a substantiated charge against an officer of sexual assault or a serious case of dishonesty, like perjury.

CNPA and the ACLU were co-sponsors of the bill.

The legislation lists the panoply of records that will now be subject to disclosure upon request, including: all investigative reports; photographic, audio, and video evidence; transcripts or recordings of interviews; autopsy reports; copies of disciplinary records relating to the incident, and letters indicating final imposition of discipline or other documentation reflecting implementation of corrective action.

The bill also sets forth timing for disclosures. The rules allow an agency to delay access to protect an active investigation and active criminal trial. However, at some point, the agency must disclose responsive records.

The bill becomes effective Jan. 1, 2019.