California Police Transparency Bill Passes First Legislative Hurdle

Bill to shine light on officer misconduct and serious use of force approved by the State Senate Public Safety Committee

SACRAMENTO–With a 5-1 vote in the Senate’s Public Safety Committee today, Senator Mark Leno’s Senate Bill 1286 will advance in the California Legislature. The bill gives the public access to crucial information about how police departments handle the most serious uses of force and confirmed instances of officer misconduct.

“We are thrilled to know that California is one step closer to living up to two cornerstones of democracy: transparency and accountability. Thousands of Californians have voiced support for this bill and polls show the public – 79 percent of California voters – thinks more must be done to hold police accountable,” said Peter Bibring, Director of Police Practices for the ACLU of California.

Unlike other public employees, all records related to police discipline are absolutely confidential and exempt from California’s Public Records Act. As a result, departments are legally banned from disclosing to the public whether an officer is guilty of misconduct, if said officer was disciplined, or what the discipline consisted of – even if a department or police chief wanted to.

“This bill would give families who have lost loved ones to police violence the information they need to gain closure and begin healing, something families are currently denied in California. All we want to know is what any grieving family member would want to know: what happened?” said Kim McGill, an organizer with the Youth Justice Coalition.

In the aftermath of countless high-profile officer-involved shootings of unarmed people of color, and as law enforcement agencies throughout the country and state struggle to repair fractured relationships with communities, California forbids law enforcement agencies from even sharing the factual findings in investigations of police shootings.

“This is a great day for any Californian who wants to better understand how police agencies investigate and resolve allegations of police misconduct. This is the first step in restoring people’s faith in the officers that put their lives on the line for us every day,” general counsel of the California Newspaper Publishers Association.

SB 1286 will ensure that:

  • Californians who file complaints alleging misconduct be told how the department responded. If the complaint is rejected, they will be told why. If it is sustained, they will be told what corrective action is taken.
  • Civilian oversight bodies and local governments have access to the police department records they need to carry out their duties, while requiring those agencies to keep records confidential.
  • Officers’ privacy and safety is protected by allowing courts to withhold records if there is a risk or danger to an officer or someone else, or if disclosure would be an unwarranted invasion of officers’ privacy.

 SB 1286 will now head to the Senate Appropriations Committee for consideration. The bill is co-sponsored by the ACLU of California, the California Newspaper Publishers Association, CURYJ, PICO California, and the Youth Justice Coalition.