CA Legislature approves bill SB 16 to improve police accountability

photo of handcuffs on a table
SimmieD/Creative Commons
A pair of handcuffs lay on a table. SB 16 allows for communities to hold police agencies more accountable and expands access to police misconduct records. Photo by SimmeD under CC BY-SA 4.0

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The California State Legislature approved bill SB 16 on Sept. 2 to expand public availability to police misconduct records.

The California State Senate voted 29-9 to pass the bill and the California State Assembly approved the bill on a vote of 57-13, according to a press release from Sen. Nancy Skinner’s, D-Berkeley, office. SB 16 has been sent to Gov. Gavin Newsom for approval.

Authored by Skinner, the bill gives communities the ability to hold police agencies more accountable. The publicly available records will include information about officers who “engaged in biased or discriminatory behavior, conducted unlawful arrests or searches, or used force that is excessive or unreasonable,” according to the press release.

“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,” Skinner said in the press release. “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.”

Jonathan Abel, associate professor at UC Hastings College of Law, noted that the bill is an expansion of the California Public Records Act, which required the disclosure of government records to the public as of 1968. According to the press release, SB 16 also builds on SB 1421, which was introduced by Skinner in 2018 to make records related to officers’ sexual assault, use of force and dishonesty accessible to the public.

Along with expanding accessibility to police records, the bill increases the time agencies must keep misconduct records from five to 15 years, the press release reads. SB 16 also requires agencies to review candidates’ prior history of complaints and misconduct before hiring them.

“The bill will bring more public oversight to what’s going on in the departments and once there’s more transparency, police departments might have more incentive to make sure the officers are behaving in accordance with the law,” Abel said.

SB 16 requires misconduct records to be released if an officer quits before the completion of a misconduct investigation, according to the press release.

It also designates a 45-day deadline for the records’ public release, prevents agencies from using attorney-client privilege to keep records private and bars them from charging above 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,” Skinner alleged in the press release. “Giving communities access to information about officer conduct, which is exactly what SB 16 does, will help restore trust.”

Contact Kavya Gupta at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @kavyaguptta.