Unsealed: California’s Secret Police Misconduct and Use-of-Force FilesUnsealed: California’s Secret Police Misconduct and Use-of-Force Files

After four decades of secrecy, a 2019 change in California law opened up some internal investigations of police misconduct and serious uses of force. A coalition of news organizations formed to obtain this long-hidden information have published over 100 stories, uncovering abuses of power, false arrests and officers fired for misconduct only to be rehired by other agencies.

The law, SB 1421, grants access to use-of-force records — about when an officer fires a gun at a person or uses any kind of force causing serious injury or death, regardless of whether the officer was disciplined. The law also grants access to records about officers who have committed sexual misconduct or lied. But these records are only released when misconduct is proven by an internal investigation.

KQED co-founded a coalition of California newsrooms dedicated to collaboratively obtaining and reporting on these previously hidden internal investigations. The California Reporting Project, as the collaboration came to be known, is defending public access under the new law in a series of court cases. Currently, about 40 news organizations are part of the group.

The California Reporting Project’s work continues. Journalists are still fighting for records from agencies that have yet to provide them and working toward a deep analysis of police accountability throughout the state. KQED is working with other news organizations, UC Berkeley’s Investigative Reporting Program and Stanford University to develop a database of the records that will eventually be made available to the public.

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