Until recently, California law has kept police personnel records mostly confidential. The general rule under Penal Code section 832.7 was that peace officer personnel records were confidential and were not subject to disclosure. However, because of the public’s increasing scrutiny of law enforcement, there have been significant efforts in legislation to improve transparency of law enforcement, and the public access to records, in the last few years.

SB 1421 Was The First Bill To Make Police Records Accessible By The Public

In 2019, SB 1421 went into effect, which required certain investigatory police records to be made available for public inspection pursuant to the California Public Records Act. This bill essentially created exceptions to the general rule keeping police records confidential. SB 1421 required disclosure of certain records under the Public Records Act if the records related to: (1) an officer-involved shooting; (2) use of force by a peace officer resulting in death or great bodily injury; (3) a sustained finding of dishonesty; or (4) a sustained finding of sexual assault by a peace officer.

This was a landmark bill in making certain types of police personnel records available for public viewing. However, despite the change to the law, law enforcement agencies across the state were delaying or denying the public access to records for which disclosure was supposed to be mandatory. These agencies even resorted to litigation to avoid disclosure.

A New Bill, SB 16, Expands On SB 1421, And Addresses Agencies That Have Ignored The Law

Building on SB 1421, the California Legislature enacted SB 16, which went into effect on January 1, 2022. SB 16 specifically adds four categories of disclosable records. Under this bill, agencies must disclose records if they relate to: (1) a sustained finding of unreasonable or excessive force, (2) a sustained finding of failure to intervene, (3) a sustained finding of prejudice or discrimination, or (4) a sustained finding of unlawful search or arrest.

Furthermore, as a direct response to agencies’ non-compliance with SB 1421, SB 16 provides that:

  • Records subject to disclosure shall be provided at the earliest possible time, and no later than 45 days.

  • Agencies must retain records for at least 5 years where there is not a sustained finding of misconduct. Agencies must retain records for at least 15 years where there is a sustained finding of misconduct.

  • A record shall not be destroyed while a request related to that record is being processed or while any process or litigation to determine whether the record is subject to release is ongoing.

  • When an officer’s records are requested and the officer resigns, the agency is still required to disclose existing records relating to the incident.

  • The attorney-client privilege will not prohibit the disclosure of (a) billing records or (b) factual information provided to the attorney or discovered in any investigation conducted by the attorney.

  • Any public agency hiring a peace officer must review any files for future disclosure to the public, before hiring that officer.

  • In litigation, when a party files a Pitchess motion to obtain disclosure of peace officer or custodial officer records that are not subject to mandatory disclosure under Penal Code section 832.7, the court is no longer required to exclude complaints concerning conduct that occurred more than 5 years before the event that is the subject of litigation.

Find a Knowledgeable Criminal Attorney Near Me

If you are currently defending yourself against criminal charges in Sacramento and believe that the new disclosure requirements under SB 16 can help your case, do not hesitate to contact Foos Gavin Law Firm at 916-779-3500. Our attorneys are familiar with court processes and stay current with the changing laws, and thus are well suited to help you request records to aid in your defense.