California police unions are preparing to battle new transparency law in the courtroomc

The Fredericksburg, Va. Police Department has introduced the use portable video camera devices worn by all on-duty officers. The Taser Axon Flex is the product in use. (Copyright, Robert A. Martin/Freelance)

Just as a landmark police transparency law is going into effect, some California police agencies are shredding internal affairs documents and law enforcement unions are rushing to block the information from being released.

The new law, which begins to unwind California’s strictest-in-the-nation protections over the secrecy of law enforcement records, opens to the public internal investigations of officer shootings and other major uses of force, along with confirmed cases of sexual assault and lying while on duty. But the lawsuits and records destruction, which began even before the law took effect Jan. 1, could tie up the release of information for months or years, and in some instances, prevent it from ever being disclosed.

“The fact that police unions are challenging this law is on some level not surprising,” said Peter Bibring, director of police practices at the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, one of the principal supporters of the new law. “They have a long history of fighting tooth and nail against transparency.”

Before this year, the public couldn’t access police disciplinary records outside of a courtroom. The same prohibitions, which were first put into place four decades ago after a push from police unions, applied to prosecutors as well. California was the only state in the nation where that was the case. …

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