Q: I’d like to obtain an incident report from the police department and they have denied the request. What can I do to access the report?
A: If you made a Public Records Act request for the incident report, the police agency here should have cited a valid exemption that applies to the report that would justify its nondisclosure. If the police have not cited any exemption, you might want to write back and press them to justify their withholding.
That said, it is likely the police here are withholding the report pursuant to Government Code § 6254(f), which exempts “[r]ecords of complaints to, or investigations conducted by, or records of intelligence information or security procedures…or security files compiled by any other state or local police agency, or any investigatory or security files compiled by any other state or local agency for correctional, law enforcement, or licensing purposes.”
However, there is certain information that police are required to release.
First, victims are entitled to certain information related to a particular incident. Under the Act, “state and local law enforcement agencies shall disclose the names and addresses of persons involved in, or witnesses other than confidential informants to, the incident, the description of any property involved, the date, time, and location of the incident, all diagrams, statements of the parties involved in the incident, the statements of all witnesses, other than confidential informants, to the victims of an incident, or an authorized representative thereof, an insurance carrier against which a claim has been or might be made, and any person suffering bodily injury or property damage or loss, as the result of the incident caused by arson, burglary, fire, explosion, larceny, robbery, carjacking, vandalism, vehicle theft, or a crime as defined by subdivision (b) of Section 13951, unless the disclosure would endanger the safety of a witness or other person involved in the investigation, or unless disclosure would endanger the successful completion of the investigation or a related investigation. However, this subdivision does not require the disclosure of that portion of those investigative files that reflects the analysis or conclusions of the investigating officer.” Gov’t Code § 6254(f).
Second, police are required to release a limited amount of information about a particular incident to any member of the public who asks, 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. Information required to be released includes “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.” Gov’t Code § 6254(f)(2).
Police are also required to release “[t]he 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.” Gov’t Code § 6254(f)(1).
Again, I would recommend that you write back to the agency asking that it justify its nondisclosure of the report, and also reminding the agency of the Act’s requirement that it release certain information to members of the public (and also to victims, if this applies to you).
Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner 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. No attorney-client relationship has been formed by way of this response.