Peace Officer Standards v. Superior Court

Citation64 Cal.Rptr.3d 661,165 P.3d 462,42 Cal.4th 278
Decision Date27 August 2007
Docket NumberNo. S134072.,S134072.
CourtCalifornia Supreme Court
PartiesCOMMISSION ON PEACE OFFICER STANDARDS AND TRAINING, Petitioner, v. The SUPERIOR COURT of Sacramento County, Respondent; Los Angeles Times Communications LLC, Real Party in Interest.
64 Cal.Rptr.3d 661
42 Cal.4th 278
165 P.3d 462
The SUPERIOR COURT of Sacramento County, Respondent;
Los Angeles Times Communications LLC, Real Party in Interest.
No. S134072.
Supreme Court of California.
August 27, 2007.

[64 Cal.Rptr.3d 663]

Bill Lockyer and Edmund G. Brown, Jr., Attorneys General, Jacob A. Appelsmith, Assistant Attorney General, Vincent J. Scally, Jr., Elizabeth Hong and Michael E. Whitaker, Deputy Attorneys General, for Petitioner.

Law Offices of Jones & Mayer, Martin J. Mayer, Fullerton, and Paul R. Coble, Los Angeles, for California State Sheriffs Association, California Police Chiefs Association and California Peace Officers Association as Amici Curiae on behalf of Petitioner.

Rains, Lucia & Wilkinson and Alison Berry Wilkinson, Pleasant Hill, for The Legal Defense Fund of the Peace Officers Research Association of California as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Petitioner.

Kasey Christopher Clark and Joshua C. Walters, for Cause Statewide Law Enforcement Association as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Petitioner.

No appearance for Respondent.

Davis Wright Tremaine, Kelli L. Sager, Alonzo Wickers IV, Rochelle L. Wilcox,

[64 Cal.Rptr.3d 664]

Los Angeles; and Karlene W. Goller, Los Angeles, for Real Party in Interest.

Law Offices of Merrick J. Bobb and Merrick J. Bobb, as Amici Curiae on behalf of Real Party in Interest.

Levy, Ram & Olson, Karl Olson, San Francisco; Thomas W. Newton; Jon Donnellan; Stephen J. Burns, Sacramento; Harold W. Fuson, Jr., La Jolla; Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz, James E. Grossberg; Charles Glasser; DLP Piper Rudnick Gray Cary, James Chadwick, San Francisco; Peter Scheer, San Francisco; Lucy A Daglish and Gregg P. Leslie, for California Newspapers Publishers Association, Hearst Corporation, Contra Costa Newspapers, Inc., McClatchy Company, The Copley Press, Freedom Communications, Inc., dba The Orange County Register, Associated Press, Bloomberg News, San Jose Mercury News. California First Amendment Coalition and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press as Amici Curiae on behalf of Real Party in Interest.

Alan L. Schlosser, Mark Schlosberg, San Francisco; Peter Eliasberg, Los Angeles; Law Offices of Amitai Schwartz, Amitai Schwartz, Lisa Sitkin, Emeryville; and Jordan C. Budd, San Diego, for ACLU of Northern California, ACLU Foundation of Southern California and ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties as Amici Curiae on behalf of Real Party in Interest.


This case presents the question whether the California Public Records Act (Gov. Code, § 6250 et seq.) requires the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (Commission) to disclose the names, employing departments, and hiring and termination dates of California peace officers included in the Commission's database. The Court of Appeal reversed the judgment rendered by the superior court, which directed that the records be disclosed, because of the appellate court's conclusion that this information is obtained from peace officer personnel records which, under Penal Code sections 832.7 and 832.8,1 may not be disclosed except under certain statutorily prescribed circumstances. We conclude that the records at issue are not rendered confidential by those two statutes and that the records do not come within any of the exemptions contained in the Public Records Act. Accordingly, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeal. Upon remand to the superior court, the Commission may seek to establish that information regarding particular officers or categories of officers should be excised from the disclosed records because the safety or efficacy of the officers would be jeopardized by disclosure.


The Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training is an agency created within the California Department of Justice that is charged with establishing standards of physical, mental, and moral fitness for peace officers. (§ 13510, subd. (a).) It also "develop[s] and implement[s] programs to increase the effectiveness of law enforcement" and provides education and training for peace officers. (§ 13503, subd. (e); see also § 13500.) The Commission is responsible for allocating state funds to local governments and districts for the expense of training full-time peace officers. (§ 13523.)

Every law enforcement department that participates in Commission programs and receives funding from the Commission is

64 Cal.Rptr.3d 665

required to comply with the Commission's minimum selection and training standards for peace officers, and must permit the Commission to inspect its records in order to verify claims for reimbursement of funds or to confirm departmental compliance with Commission regulations. (§ 13523; Cal.Code Regs., tit. 11, § 9030.) "Whenever a peace officer of a participating department is newly appointed, promoted ... or ... terminates," the department is required to report that event to the Commission. (Cal.Code Regs. tit. 11, § 1003.) Departments may submit the required information either on a form or through the Internet, using a secure system that is available only to registered users. The form includes the officer's name, Social Security number, date of birth, gender, address, race or ethnicity, rank, and department. The information reported on the form includes the appointment date, the type of appointment (new. promotion, demotion, or status change), the appointment status (peace officer, reserve peace officer, dispatcher, or records supervisor), time base (fulltime, parttime, or seasonal), pay status (paid or unpaid), termination date, and reason for termination (whether resigned, discharged, retired, deceased, or convicted of a serious crime).

The Commission maintains the reported information pertaining to each peace officer in an electronic database. It also maintains training records for persons who have taken Commission-certified courses. The Commission currently maintains information from 626 participating departments, and has been accumulating this information since the 1970's. The Commission employs these records to monitor compliance with its selection and training requirements, which apply to new appointments, promotions, and lateral transfers of employees. It also uses them to determine whether officers have met the training and experience requirements for its intermediate and advanced certificates. The Commission does not release these records to the public.

A reporter employed by the Los Angeles Times requested that the Commission release information in its database pertaining to all new appointments dating from 1991 through 2001. The information requested was the officer's name and birthdate, employing department, appointment dates, termination dates, and reason for termination. The Commission denied the request, and Los Angeles Times Communications LLC (the Times) filed a petition for writ of mandate in the superior court, seeking release of the information under the California Public Records Act. (Gov. Code, § 6250 et. seq (the Act).)

The Act exempts from disclosure any "[rjecords, the disclosure of which is exempted or prohibited pursuant to federal or state law, including, but not limited to, provisions of the Evidence Code relating to privilege." (Gov.Code, § 6254, subd. (k).) In denying the request, the Commission relied upon Penal Code sections 832.7 and 832.8, asserting that the requested information was obtained from peace officer personnel records and accordingly was privileged and exempt from disclosure. Section 832.7, subdivision (a) provides that peace officer personnel records, and "information obtained from these records, are confidential" and may be disclosed in civil or criminal proceedings only under specified discovery procedures. Section 832.8 defines "personnel records" for purposes of section 832.7 as "any file maintained under that individual's name by his or her employing agency and containing records relating to any of the following: [¶] (a) Personal data, including marital status, family members, educational and employment history, home addresses, or similar information. [¶] (b) Medical history. [¶] (c)

64 Cal.Rptr.3d 666

Election of employee benefits. [¶] (d) Employee advancement, appraisal, or discipline, [¶] (e) Complaints, or investigations of complaints, concerning an event or transaction in which he or she participated, or which he or she perceived, and pertaining to the manner in which he or she performed his or her duties. [¶] (f) Any other information the disclosure of which would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy."

In support of its claim that the records at issue were obtained from peace officer personnel records, the Commission submitted a declaration from Paul Harman, the Chief of its Information Services Bureau. Based upon his prior experience with the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department and "on information and belief," Harman declared that the information provided to the Commission by law enforcement agencies came from peace officer personnel records.

At a hearing conducted by the trial court, the Times withdrew its request for officers' birth dates, explaining that it sought that information only for the purpose of distinguishing officers with the same name. The Times explained that it was interested in documenting trends in the movement of police officers from one department to another, and that, for example, the Los Angeles Police Department was understaffed because it had a high rate of attrition due to many officers leaving employment at that department in order to work at other law enforcement agencies. The Times also was interested in whether and why officers might be hired by one agency after leaving a number of other agencies involuntarily.

The superior court entered a judgment ordering the Commission to release each officer's name, along with the appointing agency, date of new appointment, and...

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