Q: My landlord has called Police Department many times to harass me. I’ve called and written to the PD for copies of the field interrogations but they refuse to release them to me because I’m the person complained about. I would like to know what is contained in the complaints. And is there a legal way to obtain these field reports or “investigations”?
A: The California Public Records Act, Govt. Code section 6250 et seq., generally provides that records of state and local governmental agencies are open to the public for inspection and copying.
However, there are numerous exceptions to the law that provide that certain records or categories of information need not be disclosed. Unfortunately, police records of complaints or investigations are generally exempt.
“Records of complaints to, or investigations conducted by, or records of intelligence information or security procedures of…any state or local police agency…[are exempt from disclosure].” Gov’t Code 6254(f).
Additionally, although the Police Records Exception carves out some information that state and local law enforcement agencies shall disclose, subject to public safety concerns, (i.e., witness information), “nothing in this division shall require the disclosure of that portion of those investigative files that reflects the analysis or conclusions of the investigating officer.” Id.
Additionally, it may be difficult obtain information regarding the substance of the complaints (not just the complaints themselves) if you are the individual complained of.
Gov’t Code 6254(f) states that, unless “disclosure of a particular item would endanger the safety of a person involved in an investigation or would endanger the successful completion of the investigation or a related investigation,”
State and local law enforcement agencies shall make 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…” Gov’t Code 6254(f)(2).
This provision is subject to the restrictions imposed by Section 841.5 of the Penal Code, which states, “no law enforcement officer or employee of a law enforcement agency shall disclose to any arrested person, or to any person who may be a defendant in a criminal action, the address or telephone number of any person who is a victim or witness in the alleged offense.” Penal Code § 841.5(a).
Therefore, the physical complaints and field investigation notes themselves are not subject to disclosure, and the police agency may refuse to disclose the substantive information contained in the complaint if it would require they disclose the any potential “victim information” to the complained of individual.
However, in the event you sue your landlord, you maybe be able to legally obtain copies of these reports through the discovery process.
Bryan Cave LLP is general counsel for the First Amendment Coalition and responds to FAC hotline inquiries. In responding to these inquiries, we can give general information regarding open government and speech issues but cannot provide specific legal advice or representation.