Public Record, and 911 Call Logs

Public Record, and 911 Call Logs

Q: We submitted a Public Records Request to the Police Department seeking a copy of their ‘Call for Service’ log, known also as the Daily Dispatch Log, Police Blotter or 911 Call Log.  They denied the request indicating that they don’t have this type of information, therefore are not required to compile such information.  We are seeking the Dates of Calls for Service, the respective incident numbers, time of incident, location of incident and type of incident.

It is my understanding, pursuant to a U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit decision, U.S. v. Garcia, No. 92-30384 (1993), that dispatch logs are public records, therefore disclosable.

A: From your email, it sounds as if the Police Department is not disputing your right to obtain copies of the dispatch log, but claiming it does not keep this information and therefore cannot provide what it does not have. This seems dubious to us unless you are asking for dated information and the department is claiming it does not retain the information after a certain date.

However, as a practical matter you should know that the department could argue that 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. It would be strange, however, if they said those logs do not actually exist.

As for the case of US v. Garcia, it does not provide a separate right of access to this information.  For on thing, Garcia is not a published decision, and thus carries the following notation:  “THIS DISPOSITION IS NOT APPROPRIATE FOR PUBLICATION AND MAY NOT BE CITED TO OR BY THE COURTS OF THIS CIRCUIT EXCEPT AS PROVIDED BY THE 9TH CIR. R. 36-3.”

More importantly, however, the Garcia case is talking about the admissibility of dispatch logs in a criminal trial, and is not attempting to interpret or apply the California’s Public Records Act.  The Court found that the logs were admissible under the “public records exception” to the hearsay rule.  This does not mean that the Court was saying the records had to be disclosed to the public, but that the records constitute “public records” because they are “ministerial reports” maintained by a public (ie, governmental) agency, the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs), which is a federal agency and thus governed by the federal Freedom of Information Act, not the California PRA, which applies to the San Jose Police Department.