The city of Inglewood has authorized the shredding of more than 100 police shooting and other internal investigation records weeks before a new state law could allow the public to access them for the first time.
The decision, made at a City Council meeting earlier this month, has troubled civil liberties advocates who were behind the state legislation, Senate Bill 1421, which takes effect Jan. 1. The law 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.
“The legislature passed SB 1421 because communities demanded an end to the secrecy cloaking police misconduct and use of force,” Marcus Benigno, a spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, said in a statement. “Inglewood PD’s decision to purge records undermines police accountability and transparency against the will of Californians.”
California law says police departments must retain records of officer shootings and internal misconduct investigations for five years. The city of Inglewood, however, had kept records longer than that, including case files of police shootings dating to 1991. State Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), the author of SB 1421, intended for her bill to allow public access to all qualifying records held by a department, no matter the date of the incident.
Inglewood City Council approved the destruction of records that have been in the police department’s possession — more than 100 cases — longer than required by law. The city staff report and council resolution describing the action makes no mention of the new police transparency law. Instead it says the affected records are “obsolete, occupy valuable space, and are of no further use to the police department.” It added the traditional method of destroying such records is to shred them.
It is unclear whether the records have since been destroyed.
A spokesman for the Inglewood Police Department along with Inglewood’s city manager, attorney, clerk, four council members and Mayor James T. Butts, a former Santa Monica police chief, did not respond to requests for comment. Inglewood’s City Hall is closed the last two weeks of December.