Public has a right to view police misconduct records, Judge rules.

Providing police misconduct records to the Public is a basic Civil Right in a democratic society. The police and their handlers need a consistent reminder of this fact.

Excerpted from San Francisco Chronicle 2.9.2019

A new California law requiring cities to unseal police misconduct records applies to past records as well as new ones, a judge decided Friday in denying injunction requests from several police unions fighting to prevent the release of pre-2019 records.

Kathleen Guneratne, an attorney with the ACLU of Northern California, said that police unions were well aware of the effects of SB1421 as it was making its way through the Legislature, and unions fought it then, too.

She said there essentially is no “retroactivity” argument, and that public records laws apply to any documents currently maintained by a government agency.

Guneratne called the unions’ court battles “a last-ditch effort to subvert the will of the people and the statute.”

Contra Costa County Superior Court Judge Charles Treat’s decision is the first in a wave of lawsuits across the state by unions that say the state’s transparency law, SB1421, should not force cities and counties to release police misconduct records created before the law took effect on Jan. 1.

Six law enforcement unions in Contra Costa County — in Concord, Richmond, Antioch, Martinez and Walnut Creek, as well as the Contra Costa County Deputy Sheriff’s Association — sought preliminary injunctions to bar officials in their cities and county from releasing pre-2019 personnel records. Several law enforcement associations in Southern California have filed similar suits in their own counties.

Treat said the attorneys for the unions in Contra Costa County failed to convince him the law should apply only to new documents. He denied their requests for preliminary injunctions.

The California Supreme Court has already declined to weigh in on the matter, after the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Employees’ Benefit Association filed a similar suit with the high court.

This leaves the cases to be handled by local courts. Treat was the first to officially rule one way or another, but his order doesn’t set a precedent for other counties.

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