Legislature OK’s SB 16 to Expand and Strengthen Access to Police Records

September 2, 2021

The California Legislature today approved SB 16, which will expand public access to police misconduct records and strengthen communities’ ability to hold law enforcement agencies accountable. The bill by state Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, opens access to records on officers who have engaged in biased or discriminatory behavior, conducted unlawful arrests or searches, or used force that is excessive or unreasonable.

The California Senate voted 29-9 to approve SB 16 today, after the state Assembly passed the bill yesterday on a vote of 57-13. SB 16 now goes to Gov. Gavin Newsom for consideration.

SB 16 would also open access to records of officers who failed to intervene when another officer used unreasonable or excessive force and 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.

SB 16 builds on Sen. Skinner’s landmark 2018 law SB 1421 that lifted the veil of secrecy on police misconduct that was California policy for over four decades.

“Communities deserve to know that those hired to protect them can be counted on to do so. With SB 16, we will now have the tools to hold our police departments accountable and rebuild trust,” said Sen. Skinner. “SB 16 also sends a clear message that officers who persist in racist or abusive behavior will not be hidden from the public any longer.”

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 sustained findings on officers who used force that was unreasonable or excessive or failed to intervene when another officer used unreasonable or excessive force
  • Provide access to sustained findings on officers who engaged in racist or biased behavior or conducted unlawful arrests or searches
  • Increase the length of time agencies must keep records of sustained findings of misconduct from five to 15 years
  • 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

“Most police officers perform their jobs with honor, but years of hiding officer misconduct has resulted in a crisis of faith in law enforcement,” Sen. Skinner added. “Giving communities access to information about officer conduct, which is exactly what SB 16 does, will help restore trust.”

 

Sen. Nancy Skinner represents the 9th Senate District, is chair of the Senate Budget Committee, and vice chair of the Legislative Women’s Caucus.