Police in Long Beach, California are in the midst of contract negotiations with the city. The latest version of the contract includes a provision that would require officers to be notified when a member of the public requests their conduct record.
The new contract goes before the Long Beach City Council on Tuesday, September 17. The contract proposes pay raises for officers to help counteract an increase in the payments police make into the pension fund. However, it also includes a provision some say will undermine Senate Bill 1421, a police transparency law that went into effect January 1.
SB 1421, passed in September 2018, makes files about police shootings, use of force, sexual misconduct and dishonesty available, by request, to the public. According to the bill, the changes to the penal code are intended to boost the public's faith in officers.
"Concealing crucial public safety matters such as officer violations of civilians' rights, or inquiries into deadly use of force incidents, undercuts the public's faith in the legitimacy of law enforcement, makes it harder for tens of thousands of hardworking peace officers to do their jobs, and endangers public safety," SB 1421 says.
According to the new contract, this is what will happen when an officer's records are requested: First, the person requesting records is notified whether or not records exist for that particular officer. If they do, the officer will be notified the same day as the person who requested them. The officer will also be provided with the date of the request, as well as the person's name, organization and the nature of the information requested. The officer will then get five days to review the records, and then be allowed to keep a copy of the records released to the public.
Police representatives say that officers often don't know what is in their record.
"It would be grossly unfair for the officer to see this for the first time on the front page of the newspaper," James Foster, president of the Long Beach Police Officers Association, told the Long Beach Press-Telegram.
Foster also said that the contract doesn't ask for any new rights. Under California state law, police officers can submit public record requests on people have requested their records.
However, First Amendment activists are worried that revealing the identity of the requesting person to officers could deter requests.
"It can now be very intimidating, now that the officer is going to know you are the one requesting it," Glen A. Smith, a legal fellow with the First Amendment Coalition told the Telegram.
Smith also suggested that by allowing the officer to see their records five days before the public release could allow them to request further redactions to the public version of the record, or even ask the court to block the release.