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Sheriff’s Department Says It’ll Cost $354K To Provide Police Records

A San Diego County Sheriff's vehicle parked at the department's administratio...

Photo by Claire Trageser

Above: A San Diego County Sheriff's vehicle parked at the department's administration center, San Diego, August 13, 2018.

The San Diego County Sheriff's Department estimated it'll cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to supply police misconduct and use of force records in response to a KPBS request. The agency's response is the latest development in a battle between law enforcement agencies and media organizations across the state to obtain records recently made available under a new law that took effect January 1.

Under Senate Bill 1421, KPBS asked the Sheriff's Department and other agencies in the county for records related to when a law enforcement officer lied, committed sexual assault or used force that caused great bodily injury or death. KPBS asked for these records over the last five years. Several other media organizations have filed similar requests.

A Monday letter from the Sheriff's Department to KPBS said the $354,524.22 fee will cover the cost to review and redact records from 48 use of force cases. It is still estimating the cost for 28 others, the response said.

The department previously told KPBS it requires special equipment and software to redact private information from audio, video and electronic files. The department cited a court case permitting the agency to charge the requester for that cost.

"As a result, the Sheriff's Department intends to charge for the cost to extract releasable electronic records, which includes the salary of the employee who reviews and extracts the data," the department said, noting the employee's hourly salary is $33.80.

However, James Chadwick, a partner of the law firm Sheppard Mullin said the court case the agency cites is currently under review by the California Supreme Court.

"So that's actually not currently a citable precedent," Chadwick said. "It's not controlling authority on anything, so their reliance on that single precedent is pretty questionable as well."

Sheppard Mullin is representing KPBS in a suit against the Sheriff's Department over a separate records dispute.

The Sheriff's Department in January quoted KPBS a fee of at least $40,215.83 to redact records related to three sustained cases of sexual assault and 11 sustained cases of dishonesty by a deputy. The response included a breakdown detailing how much it would cost to redact information for the audio, video and electronic files for each case, plus the cost of copying any paper records. The cost for one case totaled $28,876.73, the bulk of which covered redaction of nearly nine hours of video footage.

Several police unions in San Diego sued to stop the release of some records under the new law, but the deputy sheriff’s association was not among them. A judge halted the release of records from the departments in question until a March hearing. KPBS and other media organizations filed a motion to argue in support of releasing records in that case.

KPBS has already received responses from three departments that included some records. Carlsbad and Coronado police departments said it did not have any records in response to KPBS's request, but the Chula Vista Police Department provided investigative documents regarding an officer who had sex while on duty and later resigned. The department did not charge KPBS for the records.

In Contra Costa County, a judge recently ruled against law enforcement unions that argued to prevent the release of records regarding police misconduct and use of force prior to 2019. The Mercury News reports the judge stayed that order for 10 days to allow the unions to appeal.

The newspaper, which fought the unions' efforts, said the dispute over SB 1421 will likely land before the California Supreme Court.

KPBS asked county law enforcement agencies to release records related to police misconduct and the use of force under a new state law. But a response from the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department shows its records won’t come cheap.

You can hear this story and other local news every morning by subscribing to San Diego Stories, KPBS’ daily news podcast. Subscribe via iTunes, Google Play or your favorite podcatcher.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the number of use of force cases for which the department is still estimating the cost of reviewing and redacting records. This has been updated.

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