Police misconduct records to be released in San Francisco

A judge has authorized the release of some San Francisco police officer personnel records, regardless of when the records were created.

San Francisco County Superior Court Judge Ethan Schulman explained Friday that law enforcement agencies can only withhold officer records that the current law protects from disclosure.

Under Senate Bill 1421, effective this January, any cases of police-involved shootings, killings, sexual inappropriate behavior or lying are required to be released as part of the California Public Records Act.

The San Francisco Police Officers’ Association filed a lawsuit that temporarily prevented public access to any records created before January 1, 2019. The police union changed its decision Friday and dropped that suit, which could have resulted in the files being kept secret if the judge felt the new law shouldn’t be retroactively applied. 

The executive board for the officers’ association released the following statement:

"After consultation with our legal counsel, the San Francisco Police Officers’ Association has dismissed its Superior Court action regarding the retroactive implementation of SB 1421. As we have stated previously, we believe all police agencies should fully comply with the eligible requests for records. Our concern was strictly limited to protecting the privacy rights of officers for records created prior to the effective date of SB 1421. The District Court of Appeal for San Francisco is addressing the issue in a different case and we will respect that decision. 

The reality is that any officer with a sustained complaint of sexual assault, or lying in an official capacity, has likely been removed from the San Francisco Police Department due to its robust discipline process.  Rightly so.  Additionally, our department and the San Francisco Police Commission publicly release information on critical incidents and serious uses of force on a regular basis. None of this will change as a result of SB 1421."

The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California took on the police union after the lawsuit was filed with a goal to get all records released and prevent misconduct from years ago from being shrouded in secrecy.

The ACLU described the records release as a victory and something that is legally required under SB 1421.

“We’re happy to see the records released so we can get answers for our families,” said Kathleen Guneratne, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU Foundation of Northern California, which has been advocating on behalf of people whose loved ones were killed by the police. “It’s time for police unions to stop filing frivolous lawsuits and let the law take effect.”

You can read background of ACLU's opposition here