California Law Unseals Secret Police Disciplinary Files : On Our Watch In the small Northern California town of Rio Vista, a woman named Katheryn Jenks calls 911 for help. But after the police arrive, she ends up injured and inside a jail cell, facing serious charges. That same day, California Governor Jerry Brown signs a new law, State Senate Bill 1421, that opens up long hidden records of police misconduct, including files that might change the outcome of Jenks' case.
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In Good Faith

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In Good Faith

In Good Faith

In Good Faith

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Nicole Xu for NPR
Art by Nicole Xu.
Nicole Xu for NPR

In the small Northern California town of Rio Vista, a woman named Katheryn Jenks calls 911 for help. But after the police arrive, she ends up injured and inside a jail cell, facing serious charges.

On Sept. 30, 2018, the same day Katheryn is arrested, California Governor Jerry Brown signs a new law. State Senate Bill 1421 opens up long hidden police misconduct and use of force records, including files that uncover what really happened on the night of Jenks' arrest and might change the outcome of her case.

For decades in California, when allegations of officer misconduct surfaced, police chiefs, city officials and agency leaders held press conferences or issued statements promising to investigate. But the findings of those investigations were confidential — and off limits to public scrutiny.

In response to the new law unsealing police misconduct and use of force files, a team of reporters from over 40 newsrooms, including NPR Member Station KQED, set out to request records from every law enforcement agency in the state to find out how the shadow system of police accountability really works.

Just days after the new law went into effect, the town of Rio Vista released an internal investigation into the arrest of Katheryn Jenks. An investigation Jenks herself knew nothing about.

In the first episode of On Our Watch, police body cam footage takes us back to the night of Jenks' arrest and an investigator's audio recordings place us in the interrogation room of the officers who arrested her.

These files are the first time the public could see and hear the police disciplinary process in California at work.

Through those tapes and interviews with witnesses, victims and experts, we find out about the protections police officers in California have even in those interrogation rooms - and even after they're fired. And we begin to learn how the internal affairs system that's promised the public accountability for so long, actually might have a different aim.

Learn more about On Our Watch at KQED.org. This podcast is produced as part of the California Reporting Project, a coalition of news organizations in California.