California has long led the nation in protecting public access to public information, with one glaring exception that took hold in the late 1970s: Police records have become increasingly off limits. The dubious rationale for blocking disclosure is that it is a private matter — and none of the public's business — when a police officer fires a weapon, is found to have lied during an investigation or is disciplined for misconduct.
Far from being a beacon of transparency, California — when it comes to the public's ability to assess the performance of its law enforcement agencies — is the nation's information black hole.
A bill by state Sen. Mark Leno, a Democrat from San Francisco, would restore the disclosure that Californians once considered a basic element of police oversight here, as it still is in many other states. There will no doubt be fierce opposition from officers and their unions to any effort to pare back the special privileges they have won over the last several decades. But Senate Bill 1286 is a wise package of reforms that would help to instill some needed public confidence in police agencies. Continue…