Accessing personal information in police reports
Q: I have been involved in an ongoing series of complaints against my health care provider. In the process one of the administrators decided I had made threats against her and filed a police complaint alleging I had threatened her. I went to get a copy of the report as evidence for my impending law suit and was told at the police station that I could not get a copy of the report, since I was not the person who made it. I need the report as evidence for my lawsuit since the person who made the report gave the police some confidential information that did not relate to her complaint. The information was copies of some e-mails I had sent my then primary physician. At the police station I was told I would have to get a court order to get a copy of the report. Is this true? If so what type of motion or petition do I have to submit to the court to get a court appearance to try and get an order for release of the information?
A: The California Supreme Court, in a case called Williams v. Superior Court, decided that police departments do not have to provide actual copies of complaints, but under the Public Records Act (Government Code section 6254(f)) must make available the following information in those complaints (unless doing so would endanger the successful completion of an investigation or the safety of any individual): “the time,
substance, and location of all complaints … and the time and nature of the [department’s] response thereto, including … the time, date, and location of occurrence, the time and date of the report, the name, age and current address of the victim [except victims of certain sex crimes] …, [and] the factual circumstances surrounding the crime or incident….”
That last category might be broad enough that you could argue that the information the administrator provided to the police constitutes part of the “factual circumstances surrounding” the crime she accused you of committing, thus entitling to you to know what that information is.
If the department won’t give you the information, you have a couple of options. One, you could file a petition under the Public Records Act. Unfortunately, under the Williams case the court probably would not order the department to give you the complaint and the emails, but might order the department to tell you what the administrator gave and told the police and a description of the contents of any emails or other documents she gave the police. If you wind up filing a lawsuit against your health care provider and/or the administrator, your attorney may be able to serve a subpoena on the police department for a copy of the complaint she filed and any documents she provided to the police if it is likely to lead to evidence that is relevant to your claims.