Peace Officer Names, Employing Departments And Hiring And Termination Dates Are Not Exempt From Disclosure Under The California Public Records Act.
Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training v. Superior Court (Los Angeles Times Communication) (2007) ______ Cal.App.4th _______; (07 C.D.O.S. 10084, filed Aug. 27, 2007)
On the same day as the case reported above, the Supreme Court issued its decision in a case involving peace officer names, employing departments, and hiring and termination dates. The Commission of Peace Officer Standards and Training, commonly known as “POST”, is an agency of the California Department of Justice. It develops programs to increase the effectiveness of law enforcement and provides education and training for peace officers. It also collects information from all law enforcement departments in the State of California which participate in its programs. That information includes the names, employers, and hiring and termination dates of California peace officers. The Los Angeles Times requested information from POST concerning the name and birth date, employing department, employment dates and termination dates, and reason for termination. When POST refused to comply, a petition for writ of mandate was filed. POST’s denial of the request was based upon Penal Code sections 832.7 and 832.8 which, it asserted, rendered the information sought privileged from disclosure as peace officer personnel records. POST claimed that the information at issue was obtained from peace officer personnel records. During the trial of this matter at the Superior Court level, the Times withdrew its request for birth dates. The trial Court entered a judgment ordering the release of names, the employing agencies, the dates of appointment, and termination dates. The Court of Appeal directed the Superior Court to vacate its judgment and deny the petition in its entirety. But Chief Justice George, writing for the majority, disagreed. The Court held that unless a statutory exception to the disclosure applied, the information must be disclosed. In this case the exception claimed was under Government Code section 6254, subd.(k) relating to the privilege allegedly contained in Penal Code section 832.7. However, peace officers’ names, employing agency, and employment dates are not among the items specifically enumerated in Penal Code section 832.7 as components of a peace officer’s personnel record. Thus, information sought by the Los Angeles Times was not protected from disclosure. In distinguishing this case from its decision in Copley Press, Inc. v. Superior Court, 39 Cal.4th 1272, the Court noted that the information involved would not identify a peace officer as an officer involved in any particular incidents or investigations. Although the safety of peace officers and their families constitutes a legitimate concern, the Court was unwilling to agree that such safety would be threatened by the release of the information in question