Police Call Logs and Public Records
Q: Are police departments required to provide the “request for service” logs if asked for a specific date? For example, a call for disturbing the peace because of a noisy dog. I assume that gets logged into a database when it is dispatched. Are the addresses of the individuals in violation public information? I noticed some cities have websites that show this info and others don’t.
A: The California Supreme Court has held that the public does not have a right of access to the actual physical copies of the dispatch logs. In a case called Williams v. Superior Court, 5 Cal. 4th 337 (1993), the California Supreme Court said that, in enacting the California Public Records Act (CPRA), “the state Legislature … limited the CPRA’s exemption for law enforcement investigatory files,” in Government Code § 6254(f), “by requiring agencies to disclose specific information derived from the materials in investigatory files rather than the materials, themselves.” Thus, the Court said, the “required disclosures of information derived from the records about incidents, arrests, and complaints [or requests for assistance to law enforcement] need not, in most cases, entail disclosure of the records themselves.”
Here’s what the CPRA, in section 6254(f), says the department has to provide to the public: “the time, substance, and location of all complaints or requests for assistance received by the agency and the time and nature of the response thereto, including, to the extent the information regarding crimes alleged or committed or any other incident investigated is recorded, the time, date, and location of occurrence, [and] the time and date of the report, the name, age, and current address of the victim ….” Agencies must also disclose to the public “[t]he full name, current address, and occupation of every individual arrested by the agency, the individual’s physical description including date of birth, color of eyes and hair, sex, height and weight, the time and date of arrest, the time and date of booking, the location of the arrest, the factual circumstances surrounding the arrest, the amount of bail set, the time and manner of release or the location where the individual is currently being held, and all charges the individual is being held upon, including any outstanding warrants from other jurisdictions and parole or probation holds.”
As a practical matter, however, many law enforcement agencies have decided it is easier to provide copies of police reports or particular pages of police blotters regarding a particular incident rather than orally provide the information that the CPRA requires them to disclose. However, under the Williams case, they have an argument that they do not have to disclose the actual dispatch logs themselves if they don’t want to. However, as stated above, with respect to addresses of the individuals arrested — which sounds to be the specific information you are seeking — under section 6254(f), you are entitled to this information even if not to the actual call logs themselves.
If you have not already done so, I suggest you contact the police department and submit a written CPRA request for the records you seek. The CPRA requires agencies to provide you with the documents requested, or notify you that your request has been denied, within 10 days. (Gov’t Code § 6253). A sample CPRA request letter can be found on the CFAC web site at the following link: http://www.cfac.org/templates/cpraletter.html.