California Supreme Court

By Greg Yee, Press-Telegram
Posted: 05/29/14, 10:54 AM PDT | Updated: 6 hrs ago

California’s police departments do not have a blanket right to conceal the names of officers involved in shootings, the state Supreme Court ruled Thursday in a decision expected to have statewide implications.

In a 6-1 decision, the Supreme Court rejected the arguments of the Long Beach police union, concluding there is a presumption that the public has a right to know the identities of officers involved in shooting incidents. While the justices indicated there may be circumstances that would permit keeping the information secret, particularly if an officer’s safety might be jeopardized, departments do not have a sweeping right to withhold the officers’ identities in the aftermath of shootings.

“We reject that blanket rule,” Justice Joyce Kennard, who retired this spring with the case pending, wrote for the majority.

Long Beach Police Officers Association officials said in a statement it was “unfortunate that the majority of the Court does not recognize the safety concerns created for officers and their families involved in critical incidents when their names are released publicly.”

Union officials went on to say the organization “respectfully disagree(s) with the Court’s majority opinion that the public’s interest in this information outweighs the safety of the involved officers and their families. Police officers and other public safety personnel already face a wide range of risks. It is unfair and unconscionable that we should add the safety of their families and homes to that list as well.”

Justice Ming Chin was the lone dissent, siding with the Long Beach police union, which was joined by some other law enforcement groups in the case. Chin argued that the information is exempt from public records laws because it threatens police rights to privacy.

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