Inglewood officials say they’re just purging “obsolete” data. Civil liberties groups disagree.
fficials in Inglewood, California, are planning to destroy dozens of police records days before a new statewide police transparency law is set to take effect — a decision which has alarmed civil rights groups and police accountability activists.
On December 22, the Los Angeles Times reported that the city of Inglewood (outside Los Angeles) had authorized the destruction of more than 100 police records dating back to 1991, days before a new state law allowing the public to access police records takes effect.
The new measure, which was signed into law in September, allows citizens to view records from sexual assault cases, incidents in which officers lied while on duty, officer-involved shootings, and other use-of-force incidents. The law is set to take effect on January 1, 2019.
Since California is the only state in which even prosecutors cannot directly obtain officer personnel files, according to the LA Times, civil rights groups say that the law is an important step in increasing police transparency and that destroying the files would be a grave mistake.
But Inglewood officials argue that the current controversy is the result of a misunderstanding over how long policing records must be preserved. They say destroying the records, some of which date back to 1991, is simply a routine purging of “obsolete” materials that “are of no further use to the Police Department.”
“This premise that there was an intent to beat the clock is ridiculous,” Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts Jr. said on Sunday.
California state law only requires that records be preserved for roughly five years, though a previous city-wide policy in Inglewood required that records of officer-involved shootings be kept for 25 years.
Still, given the timing of the proposed record purge, civil liberties groups and racial justice activists argue that Inglewood officials are attempting to escape accountability, pointing to several recent use-of-force controversies involving the Inglewood Police Department. The controversy comes as the agency continues to grapple with the aftermath of a 2016 shooting in which several officers opened fire on a couple sitting inside a car. The shooting fueled increased demands for transparency from the Police Department, and resulted in the firing of several officers.
“Communities demanded an end to the secrecy cloaking police misconduct and use of force,” Marcus Benigno, a spokesperson for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, said in a statement last week. “Inglewood PD’s decision to purge records undermines police accountability and transparency against the will of Californians.”