Wednesday, May 21, 2008
AG: Police Must Disclose Names of Officers in Critical Incidents
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A law enforcement agency generally must disclose the names of officers involved in a critical incident such as an officer-involved shooting in response to request made under the California Public Records Act, Attorney General Jerry Brown concluded in an opinion made public yesterday.
While an officer’s name is not categorically exempt from disclosure, Brown noted, where the interests of safety and effectiveness are significant and outweigh the public interest in disclosure on the facts of a particular case, confidential treatment may be merited.
Brown reasoned that the California Supreme Court’s decision in Copley Press, Inc. v. Superior Court 39 Cal. 4th 1272 (2006) did not overrule the “central holding” of New York Times Co. v. Superior Court, 52 Cal. App. 4th 97 (1997) that a peace officer’s name is generally subject to disclosure.
New York Times held the name of an officer involved in a given incident must be disclosed if the disclosure would not reveal confidential information from an officer’s personnel file, or endanger the integrity of an investigation or the safety of the officer, Brown explained, while Copley is more narrow, holding that an officer’s name may be kept confidential if it is sought in connection with information pertaining to confidential matters such as an internal investigation or disciplinary proceedings.
Releasing the name of an officer involved in a critical incident would “merely communicate a statement of fact that the named officers were involved in the incident” Brown wrote. Such a disclosure would not reveal confidential information in an officer’s personnel file or imply any judgment on the officer’s actions, he continued.
In a situation involving an undercover officer or an incident involving a street gang member where there is a risk of retribution from other gang members, Brown theorized that a law enforcement agency could demonstrate a “‘clear overbalance on the side of confidentiality,’” but, absent such a showing, Brown concluded, disclosure is required.
The opinion was issued in response to an inquiry by Riverside District Attorney Rod Pacheco. Spokespersons for both the Riverside Police Department and Sheriff’s Department indicated that their respective agencies had not receved any recent requests for information of the type referred to in the opinion.
Pachecho could not be reached for comment.
The opinion, prepared by Deputy Attorney General Marc J. Nolan, is No. 07-208.
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