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A&A: Requests for crime reports denied by police department

Q:  I am a reporter, and I’ve been having trouble obtaining crime reports from our local police department.

I’ve requested crime reports twice and both times I’m told that they are being withheld because of Government Code section 6254(f). To be clear, one time I requested all crime reports that had been filed over a month period. The second time, I requested the reports for three specific crimes. Both times, the office cited section 6254(f).

Is there any guidance you can offer?

A:  Unfortunately, if what you are requesting constitutes an investigatory record, then it is indeed exempt under Government Code § 6254(f).  It sounds like you are requesting the detailed police crime reports, which probably are investigatory records that are exempt.  (You can read a more complete answer on this exemption on FAC’s website here.)

That said, police are required to release a limited amount of information related to arrests and requests for assistance, unless the disclosure of such information “would endanger the safety of a person involved in an investigation or would endanger the successful completion of the investigation or a related investigation.”  Id.  This information includes:

(1) The full name 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.

(2) Subject to the restrictions imposed by Section 841.5 of the Penal Code, 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, the time and date of the report, the name and age of the victim, the factual circumstances surrounding the crime or incident, and a general description of any injuries, property, or weapons involved.

(3) Subject to the restrictions of Section 841.5 of the Penal Code and this subdivision, the current address of every individual arrested by the agency and the current address of the victim of a crime, where the requester declares under penalty of perjury that the request is made for a scholarly, journalistic, political, or governmental purpose, or that the request is made for investigation purposes by a licensed private investigator as described in Chapter 11.3 ….

Cal. Gov’t Code § 6254(f)(1)-(3).

What is available to reporters with respect to the above information amounts, essentially, to police blotter information surrounding the circumstances related to arrests or calls for assistance.

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.

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