California police protected by nation’s most restrictive records law

This article looks at efforts to change California’s restrictive privacy laws surrounding police misconduct.

A state lawmaker is planning on introducing a bill in the California legislature that would give the public some insight into police misconduct investigations, according to the Los Angeles Times. The bill, which follows years of protests across California and the United States against police brutality, is meant to address the fact that California police are protected from some of the nation's most restrictive records laws. Those restrictive laws, according to critics, make it difficult to tackle the problem of police misconduct.

California's police records law

Police records in California are notoriously difficult to access. As 89.3 KPCC News reports, a legal process in California known as the Pritchess process determines how civilians, such as those who have been arrested by a police officer, can gain access to that officer's records. Those records are often important if the defendant believes his or her civil rights were violated since the records could show a history of police misconduct.

While the Pritchess process is supposed to balance the right of defendants to uphold their civil rights with police officers' privacy rights, many legal experts say Pritchess is overly restrictive and makes getting access to police misconduct records exceedingly difficult. As a result, the public is often left in the dark about whether a police officer has a history of misconduct allegations made against him or her. An appeal that the California Supreme Court is due to rule on later this year could determine the future of the Pritchess process.

Bill would make some records public

However, some lawmakers are looking to make police records more public regardless of how the state's top court rules. A bill was recently introduced, Senate Bill 1421, that would make some police records available both to the public and to other police agencies who are hiring but may not be aware of an applicant's past conduct.

If passed in its current form, the bill would make public police records involving discharging a gun, sexual assault, force that results in death or injury, and inaccurate statements made during the investigation or prosecution of a crime.

A similar proposal was made in 2016, but that was defeated by opposition from law enforcement groups. While it is not clear if this latest bill will succeed, its advocates hope that recent attention on the problem of police brutality will encourage lawmakers to relax California's restrictive police privacy laws.

Civil rights complaints

For those whose civil rights may have been violated in an encounter with the police, help is available. A civil rights attorney can help clients defend their rights, seek justice for their ordeal, and, potentially, assist them in pursuing a claim for compensation for what they may have been put through by a law enforcement officer.