Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Court of Appeal: Names of Police Officers Involved in Critical Incidents Not Always Confidential

In Long Beach Police Officers' Association v. City of Long Beach, (February 7, 2012) the Second District Court of Appeal ruled the city must release the names of police officers involved in officer-involved shootings.  In reaching its decision, the Court disagreed with the arguments of the POA and the city against disclosure, but declined to issue a blanket rule, noting public agencies have to consider disclosure on a case-by-case basis.

The case arose after the Los Angeles Times sent a public records request to the city requesting the names of all police officers involved in officer-involved shootings for a five-year time period.  After the city initially agreed to comply, the POA sued the city and the city backed down.  Then the LA times sued the city.  After initially blocking the release, the superior court ordered the city to release the names and the city and POA appealed.

The Court held the names of officers were not confidential personnel records protected from disclosure by the Penal Code.  The Court also decided not to apply the so-called "catch-all" exception to the public records act.  The catch-all exception applies whenever "the public interest served by withholding the records clearly outweighs the public interest served by disclosure."  The POA argued the exception applied because of threats to officer safety.  The Court, however, held "generalized safety concerns" are not enough to trigger the exception, but noted  "in certain circumstances protecting the anonymity of a peace officer may outweigh the public interest in disclosure."