MacArthur Fellowship Winner Kelly Lytle Hernández is a Plaintiff in the Case
LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Police Department has a long history of defying public records requests that under state law have to get a response within, at most, 24 days. Instead, the LAPD often refused to respond for months or even years. And then it sometimes gave only partial answers or didn't respond at all.
Today, in a settlement of a lawsuit filed in 2017 by the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California and Yale Law School's Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic, the LAPD agreed to change its policies and practices to ensure it will adhere to the California Public Records Act (CPRA) in answering public records requests. This includes keeping to the timeframes set down in the law and making the request process more user friendly and transparent.
"Californians have a fundamental right to information about the activities of the police," said Adrienna Wong, senior staff attorney with the ACLU SoCal. "That right isn't just theoretical — government officials have an obligation to take the practical steps necessary to ensure people get access to the information they seek."
Joining the ACLU SoCal as plaintiffs in the suit were:
- Kelly Lytle Hernandez, an associate professor at UCLA's Department of History who is one of the nation's leading historians of race, policing, immigration, and incarceration. Just yesterday it was announced she was granted a hallowed MacArthur Fellowship.
- Investigative reporter Ali Winston, who has written about law enforcement and surveillance issues for several outlets including the New York Times, ProPublica, and the Center for Investigative Reporting.
- Shawn Nee, a community activist and award-winning photographer.
"This settlement is historic, breaking open a broad range of LAPD records for public review," Hernandez said. "A new era of transformative scholarship and inquiry is sure to follow."
As part of the settlement, the LAPD will train its personnel to adhere to the law, which states that requests have to get a response within 10 days, or 24 day in unusual circumstances. That initial response should disclose whether the requested information exists. If it does exist, the LAPD must state when it will be released or if it is being withheld for legal reasons.
The settlement also calls for the LAPD to undergo annual audits to evaluate its compliance with CPRA.
The City of Los Angeles will, under the settlement, maintain an online public records portal that makes it possible to search requests that have been submitted and download records that LAPD has produced in response to public requests. The portal, already implemented, can be found at: https://recordsrequest.lacity.org/requests.
In addition, the LAPD has agreed to post online and keep current statistical data on several matters, including vehicle and pedestrian stops, jail bookings (including the age and race of people who are booked), and uses of force.
Finally, the settlement calls on the LAPD to preserve numerous existing and future documents, including use-of-force investigation records and officer-involved shooting files.
David Schulz is director of the Yale Freedom & Information Access Clinic, co-counsel in the case. He commented: "We are hopeful that this settlement represents LAPD's commitment to do the right thing and serve the public interest."
Read the settlement at: https://www.aclusocal.org/sites/default/files/aclu_socal_winston_20190926_settlement.pdf
The ACLU SoCal's guide to accessing police misconduct and uses-of-force records can be found at: https://www.aclusocal.org/en/know-your-rights/access-ca-police-records.