Police Transparency Guide

RESOURCES

police transparency guide

Police Transparency Guide

Introduction

For decades, California was one of the most secretive states when it came to information about police misconduct. Privacy protections adopted in the 1970s made officer personnel records largely off-limits to the public, and the California Supreme Court further restricted public access in 2006. 

In 2019, two transparency laws pierced this veil of secrecy in significant ways. The passage of Senate Bill 1421 and Assembly Bill 748 resulted in part from a sustained public outcry over police brutality and racial inequities in the criminal justice system, and in particular the 2018 police killing of Stephon Clark, an unarmed Black man in Sacramento. Demonstrations on the streets of the state’s capital city shifted the balance of influence from police leaders to the public, which demanded accountability. 

SB1421 requires the release of several categories of records related to misconduct and use of force, while AB 748 requires release of video and audio recordings of critical incidents. Together, these laws significantly expand public access to police misconduct records under the California Public Records Act.

When the laws were enacted, police unions turned to the courts, mounting challenges to keep information under wraps. News organizations and transparency advocates, including the First Amendment Coalition, formed the resistance and obtained critical court decisions protecting the public’s access. Additionally, affirmative cases have produced key rulings and led to the release of scores of records. 

Our Police Transparency Guide helps you exercise your right to know. The guide’s anchoring document, a Legal Compendium authored by Tenaya Rodewald of Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton, provides a detailed overview of the key statutes and relevant court cases. The guide also contains an in-depth FAQ and two sample request letters to seek records and recordings. 

FAC’s resources don’t end there. Members of the press and public can use our free Legal Hotline to get your questions answered by a team of open-government lawyers. Reporters on deadline can contact the FAC team directly at FAC@firstamendmentcoalition.org or (415) 460-5060.