New Calif. Law Requires Documents On Police Shootings Be Made Public
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Now to California, where a new state law is going into effect today, a law that will require police to make documents related to police shootings public. But at least one city has given the OK for that paperwork to be destroyed before the deadline. From member station KPCC in Los Angeles, Frank Stoltze reports.
FRANK STOLTZE, BYLINE: The city of Inglewood sits just west of Los Angeles, has about 100,000 residents and 180 police officers. In early December, its city council voted to destroy more than 100 police records at the request of the police chief. He said in a memo that the files were no longer needed nor legally required to be kept. The council's resolution also said they were taking up valuable space.
These are some of the department's most sensitive files on officer shootings, uses of force and other internal affairs investigations and date back as far as 1991. Many would have become public for the first time today under a new state law designed to make policing in California more transparent.
That law also opens to the public files on officers who've lied or engaged in a sexual assault while on duty. The ACLU's Peter Bibring says Inglewood's decision to destroy the files can only mean one thing.
PETER BIBRING: This last-minute push to shred documents rather than allowing them to become public under California law almost certainly means those documents would show problems that management doesn't want the public to see.
STOLTZE: Calls to the police department and mayor went unreturned. Inglewood acted legally. The new California law doesn't require police to keep records beyond current requirements. That's five years for shootings. Attorney Milton Grimes has represented the families of people shot by police in this LA suburb.
MILTON GRIMES: Old records tell us sometimes what people are thinking and doing and whether there's a pattern. And we cannot better this police department unless we're able to show that there's a bad pattern.
STOLTZE: The U.S. Justice Department identified some of those patterns when it found in 2010 that the department lacked clear use of force policies and oversight, following the shooting of three unarmed people in four months.
Inglewood is retaining its most recent shooting records in keeping with state law. That means Trisha Michael will have access to files regarding the shooting of her twin sister and sister's boyfriend. But she says the dozens of other families of people shot or beaten by Inglewood police will be deprived a chance at the truth.
TRISHA MICHAEL: There's a lot of unsolved, mind-bothering questions people still think about. You know, this is the opportunity for people to go back and try to figure out what happened.
STOLTZE: Not in Inglewood, which appears to be the only city in the state that decided to erase large parts of its shooting past. For NPR News, I'm Frank Stoltze in Los Angeles.
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