Valley law enforcement agencies prepare for release of officer records under new law

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Valley law enforcement agencies prepare for release of officer records under new law

The Porterville Police Department doesn't receive very many public records requests.

But Chief Eric Kroutil is making sure his agency is ready to comply with a new state law that allows members of the public to request and receive previously confidential police records.

"We're just making the assumption that we're going to get some of these record requests," he said.

Senate Bill 1421 was signed into law in September and becomes effective January 1st, 2019.

It will allow Californians to access peace officer records, including investigative reports, audio and video evidence, materials sent to the district attorney's office for review and copies of disciplinary records-specifically related to incidents where an officer fired a gun, used force that resulted in death or great bodily injury, was found to have sexually assaulted a member of the public, or was found to have been dishonest in reporting, investigating, or prosecuting a crime.

Chief Kroutil says his department has already found those records that may be released under the new law.

"We've got those identified, we've got them separated and we're pretty much ready to go," Kroutil said. "Our hang-up is going to be the audio and the video. Some of these older cases, you know, they're on tapes. So we're having to transfer those tapes and that's going to take some time."

The law allows law enforcement agencies to delay record requests for certain reasons, and to redact records, such as an officer's personal data or information, information that poses a danger to the officer or another person, or in order to protect the anonymity of complainants and witnesses.

Kroutil says redactions of paper records are straightforward, but audio and visual will require more work.

And while he has some privacy-related concerns with the law, he understands its purpose, and he'll make sure they abide by it.

"Hopefully we do our best at redaction and both comply with the law but then address the concerns of privacy not just for our officers but the members of the public," Kroutil said.

Statements from other law enforcement agencies about SB 1421

Fresno Police Department

"As of January 1, 2019, access to specified peace officer personnel records will be made available through the California Public Records Act request process. The Fresno Police Department has made tremendous efforts to enhance public trust within our community and will continue to do so by working diligently to fulfill any request received under the new provisions of SB 1421."

"An in depth look at use of force data by Fresno Police Officers is available at www.fresno.gov in our quarterly Reportable Response to Resistance Report, and information on citizen complaints and misconduct investigations is also made public in quarterly report issued by the Office of Independent Review."

Clovis Police Department (Chief Matthew Basgall)
"The Clovis Police Department is prepared for SB 1421. While we haven't increased staffing, we don't anticipate a significant increase in public records requests above and beyond what we already receive."

Tulare County Sheriff's Office (Sheriff Mike Boudreaux)

"When SB 1421 becomes law this week, the Tulare County Sheriff's Office will abide by it, as it does every law.

I support the idea of the transparency that is seeks to accomplish. However, I would argue that Law Enforcement already does a good job at being transparent with the community it serves and holding its people accountable.

In instances where that transparency is lacking, I think SB 1421 will help provide the legal framework to make certain that answers are given to those who deserve them.

But I also hope the presence of SB 1421 doesn't take away from the reasonable privacy and protection that our men and women in law enforcement should expect. At the end of the day, they do a dangerous job. And I don't want anything to jeopardize that. As with every new law, we will just have to wait and see if the original vision for it becomes the reality."
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