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KPBS Requests Law Enforcement Records; Police Unions Sue To Prevent Disclosure

A San Diego police car parked in downtown San Diego, Oct. 24, 2018.
Susan Murphy
A San Diego police car parked in downtown San Diego, Oct. 24, 2018.
KPBS Requests Law Enforcement Records; Police Unions Sue To Prevent Disclosure
GUEST: Claire Trageser, investigative reporter, KPBS News Subscribe to the Midday Edition podcast on iTunes, Google Play or your favorite podcatcher.

KPBS is asking for records from law enforcement agencies in San Diego County about officers who committed sexual assault, lied when reporting a crime or in an investigation, or used force that caused a person serious harm or death.

The responses to those requests have varied. One department supplied documents and two claimed they didn’t have any records to provide. The remaining agencies asked for extensions, and now some say they don't need to provide the records until a legal matter is settled.

What KPBS asked for


KPBS requested the records after a new state law went into effect Jan. 1. Senate Bill 1421 gives the public the right to see personnel records of law enforcement officers who are under investigation for things like shootings, other use of force and sexual assault.

Several local police unions sued over the law because they say it's not clear the legislation requires records from before Jan. 1, 2019 be made public. This week, a judge put a temporary hold on releasing the records until after a March 1 hearing.

KPBS and several other local media organizations filed a motion Monday to intervene on that case, which would allow them to argue the records should be released.

RELATED: KPBS Suing For Public Access To San Diego Sheriff’s Department Response Times To Citizen Complaints

In a separate case, KPBS is also suing the San Diego County Sheriff's Department for information on how long it took to respond to complaints made about its employees.


What KPBS has received so far

Despite the hold on releasing records, KPBS has received some reports.

The Chula Vista Police Department released one report about an officer who resigned after he was found having consensual sex in a public place.

Both the Coronado and Carlsbad police departments responded that they had no records that fit KPBS’s request.

A spokeswoman for the Coronado Police Department further clarified it conducted no investigations of officers between 2014 and 2018, the dates of records KPBS requested.

A deputy city clerk for the city of Carlsbad also said it had no responsive records to KPBS's request. A spokeswoman for the city attorney's office would not answer questions about whether this meant the Carlsbad Police Department had not conducted any investigations. A message seeking clarification from the police department was not returned.

The El Cajon Police Department sent a letter after the judge's ruling to hold off on releasing records.

It said, in part, "Until the legal question of retroactive application of the statute is resolved and litigation is concluded, we have determined that the public interest in accessing these records is clearly outweighed by the public's interest in protecting privacy rights. We will not disclose any peace officer personnel records that pre-date January 1, 2019, at this time."

The San Diego Police Department also sent a message after the judge's ruling saying it would also "comply with the Stay Order until further instruction from the court."

Every other local law enforcement agency has sent letters requesting extensions on complying with the request. That includes the California Highway Patrol, San Diego Sheriff’s Department, and police departments in the cities of Escondido, La Mesa, National City, Oceanside and San Diego.

KPBS has created a public safety coverage policy to guide decisions on what stories we prioritize, as well as whose narratives we need to include to tell complete stories that best serve our audiences. This policy was shaped through months of training with the Poynter Institute and feedback from the community. You can read the full policy here.