Another California City Allowed Police To Destroy Misconduct Records Ahead Of New Transparency Law
from the thanks-for-the-help,-assholes dept
California law enforcement agencies knew the reckoning was coming. A new law took effect at the beginning of this year, opening up records of police misconduct and use of force to the public for the first time. Some decided to engage in preemptive legal challenges. Some quietly complied. Some decided to ignore the law’s author and pretend it didn’t apply to any record created before 2019.
A couple of law enforcement agencies got really proactive and just started destroying records before the public could get its hands on them. The Inglewood PD got the green light from the city government to destroy hundreds of records subject to the new transparency law. The city and the PD claimed this was just regular, periodic housecleaning. But the timing seemed ultra-suspicious, given that it happened only days before the law took effect. Not that it matters. The records are gone and all the bad press in the world isn’t going to bring them back.
KQED brings us some more bad press targeting a police department. And, again, it’s not going to unshred the destroyed records. But it is important to call out the hugely disingenuous actions of the Fremont Police Department, which chose to greet the impending transparency with a final blast of opacity.
Last year, while state lawmakers were considering a landmark bill to open up previously confidential police misconduct records to the public, the city of Fremont quietly destroyed a large archive of papers, cassettes and computer files documenting over four decades of internal affairs investigations and citizen complaints. It is not known if the destroyed records covered officer-involved shootings.
Last fall, Fremont’s City Council also changed the Police Department’s records retention policy, reducing the amount of time that investigative files of officer-involved shootings must be saved from 25 years to 10.
Proving this resistance to transparency is not just a Fremont PD thing, the city has refused to comment on its approval of this bullshit move. The purge began almost as soon as the law was passed. The bill headed for the governor’s desk last August. Governor Jerry Brown signed it into law in September. As soon as it became clear the bill had a good chance of becoming law, the Fremont PD began destroying years of misconduct records it apparently felt were worth retaining right up until the point the public had a chance to obtain them.
Between June and December 2018, Fremont destroyed six batches of records covering investigations of police misconduct, citizen complaints and disciplinary files spanning 1971 to 2016.
KQED discovered this mass memory-holing by filing a public records request for the list of documents considered responsive to requests under the new law. The long list of destroyed files includes records of two-year investigation that resulted in eleven orders to impose discipline on a single officer and 32 years of Internal Affairs files. It also includes 12 years of files related to officer-involved shootings.
And it did this all with the city’s help. Last year, the council granted the police department’s request to change its retention guidelines, ensuring that fewer documents will be retained and, eventually, handed over to the public.
It’s one thing when a police department acts in its own self-interest by purging records that make it look less than stellar. It’s quite another when a city government helps the PD fuck the public out of what now rightfully belongs to them.