The First Amendment Coalition supports a measure under consideration in the California Legislature that would improve police transparency, building on the landmark Right to Know Act, or SB 1421, which took effect in 2019.
Senate Bill 776, authored by Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, would expand the types of records related to police misconduct and use-of-force that are subject to disclosure under the California Public Records Act. Law enforcement agencies would be required to disclose records about every use-of-force incident, as opposed to just the most serious. And it would open up records related to on-the-job sexual assault, sustained findings of wrongful arrests and searches, and disciplinary records involving racist or biased conduct. Additionally, SB 776 would increase transparency and accountability by requiring every law enforcement official defined as a peace officer to immediately report all use-of-force incidents by the officer to the officer’s employer.
The measure also has provisions that would encourage agencies to comply with the law: a $1,000 fine per day for each day beyond 30 days that disclosable records are not turned over to a requester, and the chance for prevailing parties in open-records lawsuits to seek higher damages, at an amount equal to twice the requester’s reasonable court costs and attorneys’ fees.
The bill is being heard Wednesday, Aug. 5 at 2:00 p.m. by the Assembly Public Safety Committee.