Delays, Fees, Records Destruction: Police Departments Block Public’s Right to Know in Santa Ana/California

Across California, police departments shield their misconduct records by delaying their release, charging high fees, or outright destroying them at times. Photo by City of Santa Ana.
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It’s been nine months since the Peace Officers: Release of Records Act (SB1421) went into effect, allowing the public to review police misconduct records pertaining to officer involved shootings and sexual misconduct, among others. Since then, advocates and news organizations across the state, continue to be left in the dark as police departments drag their feet to release these records, or in some cases hide them behind exorbitant fees (1). The Santa Ana Police Department (SAPD) remains one of the departments who have yet to release any records to the public.

 

SB1421 created a wave of backlash from police departments across the state, as police and sheriff unions challenged the new law in court to argue that the law should only apply to misconduct cases that took place after the law was passed, not before. Others, simply opted to go as far as destroying records, or, at the very least, attempting to do so as the SAPD did earlier this year (2 & 3). In the end, the courts ruled SB1421 to apply retroactively, forcing police departments to comply with the public’s request to obtain past records.

 

Despite these rulings, police and sheriff departments continue to keep information from the public by stalling the release of misconduct documents. These include SAPD, the Orange County Sheriff Department, and Long Beach Police Department. Whereas in areas such as Berkeley and Oakland, police records are being released on a rolling basis.

 

This January, Santa Ana resident, independent journalist, and Chispa partner Ben Camacho, submitted a request for SAPD’s misconduct records. On April 23, he received a letter from SAPD extending the length it would take to complete his request by another 120 days.

 

Should SAPD meet this deadline, the records should be made available on August 22.

 

This should not be the case. In cities such as Alameda and the East Bay, police departments have released their records, sometimes opting to do so on a rolling basis as records are redacted. This has allowed residents to piece together a clearer picture into the inner workings of their police departments and the way they do (or more often don’t) hold officers with histories of misconduct accountable.

 

“The two cases, recently disclosed under a new state law, raises serious questions about the revolving door for troubled cops and the hiring practices of California police departments that employ officers who have been canned elsewhere,” wrote the Mercury News and East Bay Times Editorial Boards in describing two cases of officers with bad behavior and past misconduct hired by Los Gatos-Monte Serano and Pinole Police Departments (4).

 

These misconduct records are important, especially in light of the public safety report by Urban Peace Institute (UPI), which revealed the huge gap in trust between SAPD and SanTana residents.

 

“The delay has become a burden at this point since myself, other media entities, organizers and the public have the legal right to see these misconduct records. I’ve seen that other police departments have released records on a rolling basis and was counting on SAPD doing the same in a consistent manner,” said Ben Camacho.

 

Whether Ben receives the records tied to his request, is met with another extension, or is asked to foot the bill for the cost of redactions will be seen this Thursday.

 

References:

  1. Anaheim to OC Weekly: Pay $17,920 For Police Shooting Audio, Video Files
  2. California police are destroying files and charging high fees to release misconduct records
  3. Santa Ana Police Department Moves to Destroy Officer Misconduct Records
  4. Records Expose Revolving Door For Bad California Cops
Bulmaro "Boomer" Vicente

Bulmaro "Boomer" Vicente

is a Latinx scholar, writer and organizer from Santa Ana. Boomer studied Political Science and Public Policy at UC Berkeley. He has worked on issues surrounding police accountability and housing justice. His work has been featured on NPR, East Bay Express, Breibart (lol), Sacramento Bee, and other outlets.

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