Tuesday, March 11, 2014

State Supreme Court leans toward naming police officers in shootings

The Los Angeles Times reports that the California Supreme Court appeared inclined during a hearing March 4 to rule that the public has the right to know the names of police officers involved in shootings. During oral arguments, most members of the court seemed skeptical of contentions by police agencies that officer names must be kept secret because disclosure could jeopardize officer safety and involve protected police personnel matters.

Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, whose husband is a retired police lieutenant, suggested that the California Public Records Act contains a presumption in favor of disclosure and does not provide for blanket exemptions.

Justice Marvin R. Baxter questioned whether police agencies would refuse to release the names of officers involved in acts of heroism. And Justice Goodwin Liu noted that officers wear nameplates indentifying them to the public.

The case stems from a 2010 Public Records Act request by Los Angeles Times reporter Richard Winton to the city of Long Beach. Winton wanted the names of officers involved in shootings during the prior five years. The police union fought the request, losing at trial and at the appeals court.

The union was joined by other police unions across the state, saying state law bars disclosure of the names of officers involved in on-duty shootings.

A ruling by the court is expected within 90 days.

2 comments:

Fred Dodsworth said...

This is a long overdue legal decision that places the public's right to know squarely on the side of the public's best interest and best policing practices. Like requiring that officers entrusted with deadly force also provide video documentation of their interactions with the public, forcing the states many and various police departments to disclose the names of officers involved in shootings will lead to better and equitable enforcement of the laws.

Jim Clifford said...

The names should be a simple matter of public record. No blanket exemption. Same goes for victims of sex crimes.