(AP) — Law enforcement agencies in California must release police misconduct records even if the behavior occurred before a new transparency law took effect, a state court of appeals has ruled.
The 1st District Court of Appeal's decision released Friday settles for now a debate over whether records created before Jan. 1, when the law took effect, were subject to disclosure. Many police unions have sued to block the records release, while public information advocates argued the records should be disclosed.
The ruling applies to police agencies statewide, including the attorney general's office, unless another appellate court steps in and rules differently, said David Snyder of the First Amendment Coalition.
"These records are absolutely essential for the public to be able to see what the police departments are doing with respect to police misdoubt," said Snyder, whose group intervened in the case. "These agencies have enormous power over Californians and so transparency of those agencies is absolutely essential in order to be able to hold them accountable."
Attorneys for the Walnut Creek Police Officers Association, who sought to block the records, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
California lawmakers voted last year to require police agencies to release records on police shootings and officer misconduct to the public. Police unions had sought to block old records, with some law enforcement agencies even destroying them. Attorney General Xavier Becerra also declined to release records from his office, saying the intent of the law was up for debate in the courts.
For now, the appeals court has settled it, first ruling on March 12 but only making the opinion public Friday.
The rulings by a panel of three justices said the old records can be released because the action triggering their release — a request for public information by reporters or others — occurs after Jan. 1. The justices also noted the release of the records does not change the legal consequences for officers already found to have engaged in misconduct.
"The new law changes only the public's right to access peace officer records," the justices wrote.
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