In a closed session on Thursday night, the Berkeley City Council decided that a new police transparency law, authored by Sen. Nancy Skinner, should apply to records pre-dating Jan. 1, 2019, when the law came into effect. Thursday’s unanimous council decision came one day after Berkeleyside and the ACLU of Northern California sued the city in Alameda County Superior Court over its refusal to release police records.
The law, SB 1421, allows for the release of police records related to misconduct and significant use of force, such as police shootings, that were not historically public in California because they were deemed private personnel records. After the law went into effect on Jan. 1, 2019, Berkeleyside and many other news organizations sought records. At the same time, many police unions around the state took the position that records created prior to 2019 are still confidential.
Mayor Jesse Arreguín made the closed session motion to change the city’s policy.
Following the City Council decision, city staff will review records pre-dating 2019 and release on a rolling basis any records in its possession that are not exempt from disclosure.
Berkeleyside sued after the city of Berkeley said it did not have to release pre-2019 records regarding the use of force resulting in great bodily injury or death. The city said it did not have to release pre-2019 misconduct records related to dishonesty or sexual assault either. But it went on to say it had searched five years of those misconduct records and found nothing.
Berkeleyside and the ACLU of Northern California have not yet withdrawn their suit, but according to attorney Michael T. Risher, acting for the plaintiffs, they hope the case can be resolved without the need for further litigation.
Following the City Council decision, Sen. Skinner applauded the changed city policy.