The California state Senate today voted 31-3 to approve SB 16 by Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, which builds on her successful 2018 law that opened public access to a limited set of police records for the first time in over 40 years. SB 16, which garnered bipartisan support, would further expand the categories of police records publicly available and strengthen law enforcement accountability. Specifically, SB 16 adds records of officers who have engaged in biased or discriminatory behavior, conducted unlawful arrests or searches, or used force that is excessive or unreasonable.
SB 16 would also open access to records of officers who failed to intervene when another officer used unreasonable or excessive force and would ensure that officers with a history of misconduct can’t just quit their jobs, keep their records secret, and move on to continue bad behavior in another jurisdiction.
“Bad behavior goes unchecked when police operate in secret. We have the right to know if a local officer engages in misconduct. SB 16 provides an essential tool to restore public trust,” Sen. Skinner said. “And it sends a clear message that officers who engage in racist or discriminatory behavior are not welcome in our communities.”
SB 16 expands on Sen. Skinner’s landmark 2018 law, SB 1421, which lifted the complete secrecy on police officer conduct that was California policy for over four decades. SB 16 is comparable to Sen. Skinner’s SB 776 from last year, which garnered bipartisan approval in the state Assembly on a 53-15 vote but was not able to be voted on by the Senate before the session’s constitutional deadline.
SB 16 expands the categories of police records that the public can access and closes loopholes that keep misconduct records under wraps. The bill would:
- Open access to incidents involving officers who use of force that is unreasonable or excessive
- Provide access to sustained findings on officers who engaged in racist or biased behavior, conducted unlawful arrests or searches, or failed to intervene when another officer used unreasonable or excessive force
- Mandate that records be released if an officer quits before a misconduct investigation is complete
- Require agencies, before hiring a candidate who has prior law enforcement experience, to review that officer’s prior history of complaints, disciplinary hearings, and uses of force
- Bar agencies from claiming attorney-client privilege to keep otherwise public records secret
- Mandate that records are made public no later than 45 days from the date of a request for their release
- Prohibit agencies from charging more than the actual cost of copying records
SB 16 now goes to the state Assembly for consideration.
Sen. Nancy Skinner represents the 9th Senate District, is chair of the Senate Budget Committee, and vice chair of the Legislative Women’s Caucus.