INGLEWOOD (AP) — A Southern California city plans to shred more than 100 police shooting and internal investigation records ahead of a new state law that could allow the public to access the documents for the first time.
The city of Inglewood made the decision at a city council meeting earlier this month, according to a report by The Los Angeles Times.
The move is troubling to the civil liberties advocates who were behind the new law, which makes public internal investigations of officer-involved shootings, other major uses of force, and confirmed cases of sexual assault and lying while on duty.
The law takes effect Jan. 1.
Inglewood’s decision “undermines police accountability and transparency against the will of Californians,” Marcus Benigno, a spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, said in a statement.
“The legislature passed (the law) because communities demanded an end to the secrecy cloaking police misconduct and use of force,” he said.
A spokesman for the Inglewood Police Department along with Inglewood’s city manager, attorney, clerk, four council members and Mayor James T. Butts did not respond to requests for comment.
Although California law requires police departments to retain records of officer-involved shootings and internal misconduct investigations for five years, Inglewood has kept some records much longer than that. Some case files of police shootings date back to 1991.
The city council approved of the destruction of records that have been in the police department’s possession — more than 100 cases — longer than required by law.
City documents describing the action make no mention of the new law. Instead, the documents say the affected records are “obsolete, occupy valuable space, and are of no further use to the police department.”
It’s unclear whether the records have been destroyed.
Police departments in California have a long history of destroying records to avoid scrutiny. In the 1970s, the Los Angeles Police Department destroyed more than four tons of personnel records after defense attorneys began requesting them as part of criminal cases against their clients. The move resulted in the dismissal of more than a hundred criminal complaints.
In response, the California Legislature demanded records be preserved but took other measures, supported by police unions, to ensure the public had very little access to them.
The new police transparency law is an attempt to unwind the previous legislation, passed in 1978.
Other police officials have been pushing back against the law. A San Bernardino police union is asking the state Supreme Court to find that the law should only apply to incidents that occur in 2019 or later. Los Angeles police Chief Michel Moore argues that applying the law to incidents older than 2019 could take hundreds of thousands of work hours.