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SDPD, Sheriff Still Owe Public Hundreds Of Police Shooting And Use Of Force Records

Speaker 1: 00:00 The passage of SB 1421 in 2018 was hailed as a watershed moment for police accountability and government transparency in California, the law says police have to make public records of officer shootings and use of force. But three years later, KPBS, investigative reporter Claire Traeger says San Diego police agencies are still holding onto hundreds of records that should have been released under the law. Speaker 2: 00:27 The 2016 holiday bowl did not end well for Jason Walker. During the game, he got into a shoving match with a man sitting behind him. Things got even worse. When the police show Speaker 3: 00:39 I was backing up just, I was like, that guy grabbed me. Like you got the guy. I was like, that guy grabbed me and then putting my hands up in the air. And then they shot me with a taser. Um, and a woman yelled. You don't need a taser him as I was shot. Um, I remember that, but then, you know, there's a handcuffs on me and try to be out of the stadium. Speaker 2: 01:06 Walker spent thousands on a lawyer to get charges of battery on a police officer dismissed. He then sued the city and agreed to a $1,000 settlement. But four years later, he still can't get the police internal affairs investigation records related to his case, Speaker 3: 01:24 California law States that when a officer is dishonest or uses excessive force and you know, like at these personnel records pursuant to SB 1421. Um, so I've been trying to get these personnel records. Speaker 2: 01:41 He may be waiting a long time. The law known as Senate bill 1421 is meant to shine a light on internal police investigations of officer shootings and use of force. But three years after it was passed, the records are still slow incoming. The San Diego police department has only released about a third of the required records. The Sheriff's department half Speaker 3: 02:05 Well SB 1421 said to the agency, you must respond, but what's what does that mean? A timely response. What does that mean? Obviously, some agencies decided that a timely response a year or two years later, Speaker 2: 02:19 State Senator Nancy Skinner wrote the law and is now proposing new legislation, SB 16, that aims to fix this record's delay problem. Speaker 3: 02:29 So what we've done in SB 16 is given a time certain you must respond by X date or the requester can take you to court. And basically, uh, you know, get penalties. Speaker 2: 02:43 After 75 days, agencies would begin being fined $1,000 a day for every day. Records are not released. Skinner expects it to pass this year. Officials with the San Diego police department and the San Diego Sheriff's department say they're releasing the records as fast as they can. They declined interviews with KPBS, but sent statements saying the process is very time-consuming and involves thousands of pages. Plus hours of video and audio captain Jeff Jordan would the San Diego police department wrote quote as SDPD works back in time. Many of the files are not in a digital format and are recorded on technologies no longer in use, such as VCR tapes. This makes producing records much harder and more. Time-consuming a statement by the San Diego County Sheriff's department spokesman also said the process is too time consuming. Speaker 3: 03:43 The purpose of public agencies is to serve the public. Speaker 2: 03:47 Paul grin, a first amendment attorney at Sheppard Mullin says these arguments missed the point of SB 1421, Speaker 3: 03:54 Instead of viewing this as some special requirement that, um, that has been imposed on that if they view it as just part of their mission and something that they need to devote their resources to just like they would any other program, then maybe that will help them, um, prioritize this in the way that it should be. Speaker 2: 04:14 Hallgren represented KPBS and other media outlets. When police unions unsuccessfully tried to block release of SB 1421 records as part of the settlement agreement, San Diego police agreed to turn over all its records, video and audio by this June, will they make the deadline? Jordan would say only the department quote believes it will be in substantial compliance of the settlement terms. Meanwhile, the Sheriff's department doesn't have the same hard deadline, but Hallgren says time is up under the California public records act records must be released at the very latest within 24 days. Speaker 3: 04:58 The media and other requesters of public records are not unreasonable. And so if an agency needs a little bit more time, that's usually fine, but it's been more than two years out. And so, um, and two years is a lot more than 24 days. So really, uh, they should be wrapping this process app. Speaker 2: 05:14 Joining me is KPBS investigative reporter, Claire Tresor and Claire. Welcome. Thank you. Why do media outlets want this information from San Diego law enforcement? Right. Well, so there's, there's two different ways. One is accountability for specific cases. Um, for example, Lamesa police just released the records, um, for the police officer who is charged with filing a false police report, uh, over his interactions with, uh, with a black man over the summer. Um, and, and that officer was fired and, uh, he's the, he's now charged with filing a false police report. And so that means that, um, those records under the scope of, of this law. And so they released, it was about 600 pages and, and that means media outlets are able to read through and get a lot more information about, uh, what happened in that case. Then we would have just known from, you know, the one page press release that the police department usually sends out. Speaker 2: 06:16 Um, but also KPBS is using these records for a broader analysis. Um, over the summer, we, we published based on the records that have been released, released so far, we looked at, um, and found that when a suspect is a person of color police officers are more likely to shoot that person. And then when the person is white, police officers are more likely to use alternative force such as a bean bags or a taser or things like that. Um, and we continue to update that analysis as more and more records are released. So it's fully up to date. Um, but, but we want all the records so that we can provide obviously a full analysis, um, of those Speaker 1: 06:57 Trends. Now you've researched some of the records that have been released by law enforcement. Can you give us an idea of what an individual file is like? Yeah. Speaker 2: 07:07 Oh my goodness. It's, um, they're usually at least 600 pages long. Um, they don't seem to be, uh, organized in any way. Uh that's every file might be different in a different order. Um, and there's tens of pages of just redactions, big black, um, texts, you know, big black boxes over all the texts. And then, um, more individual redactions where they're taking out, uh, names of witnesses, names of victims, um, the date of birth of the police officer identifying personal information, uh, like that. And then along with, especially the more recent files, there is a body-worn camera video from the police officers and audio, lots of audio, some, you know, the nine one, one calls interviews with witnesses, walkthroughs of the scene, all of that. So it is a ton of information, um, that is available that the police departments and Sheriff's department have to go through. Um, but it also provides a lot of information for media reporters and maybe people who were involved in the case who, who want more information about what happened Speaker 1: 08:19 Now, SB 1421, the law requiring police to release these records is something law enforcement has fought against is adjust because it takes time to do it or do advocate suspect. There are other reasons, too. Sure. Speaker 2: 08:34 Yeah. I mean, we actually don't need to suspect, um, because, uh, when the police unions challenged this law in court, they basically said, uh, that it wasn't written in a way that made it clear that it applied retroactively. So they would be happy to release records going forward. Um, but not anything in past. And I was in, on some of the hearings listening in on the hearings, um, when that was happening in the, the lawyer for the police union was saying, Oh, you know what, if there's a police officer, who's retired and has grandchildren. And then these records are going to be released and they're going to see all of the things that that person did a long time ago. Um, so it, it, he made it pretty clear that it's actually, they don't want full transparency about what officers may have done on the job, even if it was a long time ago Speaker 1: 09:29 Now, is it true that most law enforcement agencies across the state have been more forthcoming with records on police shootings and use of force than the San Diego police department and the San Diego County Sheriff's department. And is that because San Diego has a very large law enforcement agency? Speaker 2: 09:46 Yes. The larger, uh, departments like San Diego and LA and San Francisco are not done. They have more records because they have more officers, more cases. And so they're still providing there's on a, on a rolling basis. I think the LA sheriff is about 75% done, uh, San Francisco wasn't, wasn't willing to say because they say they don't know how many records they have. Um, and also the ACLU has put in requests and they say that there are, um, you know, about 200, uh, police departments that maybe still have records that haven't been released. Um, and that the big police departments and Sheriff's departments definitely are along with San Diego still have records outstanding. Speaker 1: 10:33 And if the new proposed law SB 16 is approved, how will that change the playing field when it comes to gaining access to these police shooting and use of force files? Speaker 2: 10:43 Well, if it's passed as it's written right now, it will be huge because right now there isn't much we can do when, uh, agencies don't hand over record. So this bill would give agencies 45 days to release the records. And then it would give them, I guess, a 30 day kind of buffer period after that deadline. But then after that, they would be fined a thousand dollars a day for every day that records are not released. So, you know, right now we have the police department, the Sheriff's department that are a couple of years behind. So you can see that that, that would add up and be a big incentive for them. Speaker 1: 11:19 I've been speaking with KPBS, investigative reporter, Claire Tresor and Claire. Thank you so much. Thank you.

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The police agencies are violating a landmark state law passed in 2018. A new bill could impose fines on departments that do not release records quickly enough.
KPBS Midday Edition Segments