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Battle over police records reaches California appeals court

Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies march in formation at their graduation ceremony in 2017.
New Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies march in formation at their graduation ceremony on Oct. 27, 2017.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times )

Lawyers for California’s attorney general argued in a state appeals court Friday against the release of police misconduct records, saying a transparency law that took effect this year was never intended to require his office to vet and disclose a vast trove of information created by local law enforcement agencies.

They sought to reverse a lower court’s order for Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra to turn over the records to news organizations, including the Associated Press, that sued his office.

Senate Bill 1421 took effect on Jan. 1 and was designed to guarantee public access to records involving investigations into officer shootings, use-of-force incidents and cases involving alleged officer misconduct.

The First Amendment Coalition and KQED News, which initially sued Becerra’s office, sought the records because the state Department of Justice independently investigates alleged wrongdoing in law enforcement departments around the state and holds the largest repository of such records.

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Becerra argued against duplicating the release of records of local agencies that are already disclosed under the law. He also said it would create an “onerous task” for his office to vet and redact sensitive information that may compromise an ongoing investigation.

“It would grind to a halt so many of the other things we have to do if all of a sudden we have to redirect our resources away from law enforcement and public safety to do data assessment and release of information that other agencies already are doing,” Becerra told reporters in Sacramento earlier this week.

He maintains his office is not trying to withhold information.

The appeals court in San Francisco has up to 90 days to decide on Becerra’s appeal.


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