Records Requests Show Even More California Police Departments Started Destroying Records Before The Public Could Get Its Hands On Them

from the crosscutting-accountability dept

More details are coming to light about California's opacity activists. Faced with impending transparency, a handful of law enforcement agencies decided to fire up the shredders rather than risk turning over police conduct records to the public under the new public records law.

Inglewood's police department was given the go-ahead to shred years of responsive documents last December in a council meeting that produced no record of discussion on the matter or the council's determination.

Public records requests filed after the new law went into effect in January uncovered moves made by the Fremont city council to help local police rid themselves of records the public might try to request. The city lowered the retention period for officer-involved shooting records from 25 years to ten and allowed the department to destroy 45 years of police misconduct records it had decided to hold onto until it became inconvenient for it to do so.

Darwin BondGraham of The Appeal has discovered even more record destruction by California law enforcement agencies occurring ahead of the law's implementation.

Union City, a suburb adjacent to Fremont, also destroyed a large number of police records in June 2018 while SB 1421 was moving through the legislature toward the governor’s desk for signature.

Police shredded reviews of officer-involved shootings, vehicle collisions resulting from high-speed pursuits, and use of force reports from 1983 to 2015, according to documents obtained through a public records request.

In addition to these records, Union City police memory-holed 12 records detailing incidents in which officers fired their service weapons, including two "unintentional" shootings.

Meanwhile, over in Livermore, more police records were being purged, although city officials claim the destruction of records prior to the new law taking effect was just "routine" yearly destruction, rather than an attempt to rid the PD of documents it would rather not hand over to requesters. Routine document destruction is indeed part of most government agencies' practices, but some of what was done during this last purge seems anything but "routine."

Livermore is in the process of destroying files for 27 complaints made to the police department’s internal affairs unit during 2012, according to documents obtained through a public records request. A list of files doesn’t reveal the allegations in these cases, whether they were sustained, or whether any officers were disciplined.

Also on Livermore’s list of records to destroy are hundreds of use of force reports spanning 2008 to 2012, and six reviews of officer-involved shootings that occurred in 2009, 2011, and 2012.

While it's true California law only mandates retaining these records for five years, the purges happening here (and elsewhere in the state) show police departments are holding onto these records for much longer than they're legally required to. These records must have some value to the agencies if they're willing to retain them this long. And if they have value to police departments, they certainly are of some value to the general public, which deserves to know how the police forces they pay for are behaving.

Departments are willing to hold onto misconduct/shooting records for decades, but only start destroying them when it looks like they might have to share. Agencies can point to mandated retention periods all they want, but the argument doesn't wash if they're only sticklers about it when transparency is being forced on them.

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Filed Under: california, destruction, foia, police records, public records, transparency

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  1. icon
    Bill Silverstein (profile), 29 Apr 2019 @ 6:58am

    Consciousness of guilt and spoliation

    If the police are sued, the Plaintiff will argue both consciousness of guilt and spoliation. If the records never existed, how will they show those records never existed in light of the mass destruction of records?

    See CACI No. 204. Willful Suppression of Evidence and CALCRIM No. 371. Consciousness of Guilt: Suppression and Fabrication of Evidence,

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