Is An Officer’s Name Private?

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On March 4th of this year, the California Supreme Court will hear Long Beach Police Officers Association v. City of Long Beach et al. (Los Angeles Times Communications LLC, Real Party in Interest). The Court will hear argument on this specific question: Are the names of police officers involved in on-duty shooting incidents subject to disclosure under the California Public Records Act?

CB006518The court agreed to review the case after the Court of Appeal upheld a trial court’s order denying a request to stop the release of law enforcement officer names involved in a shooting. The trial court also found that the names of the officers could not be withheld from the public.

The case will provide further guidance in a contentious area of the law, and will hopefully balance the concerns of law enforcement in safeguarding officers from possible reprisal with the desire of the public to have the information disclosed.

Often overlooked in this balance is that not only are the officers potentially placed at risk, but also members of their families. This aspect should factor into the analysis at some point and perhaps the California Supreme Court will take this into account.

Though officers routinely provide their names to members of the public upon request and display their names on their uniforms, the issue is not the information itself, but the circumstances of the release. Certainly, public policy strongly favors disclosure of officer names, as this Los Angeles Times article underscores. However, the critical nature of officer involved shootings coupled with the potential safety concerns presents a strong argument against disclosure.

Will the California Supreme Court craft a common sense rule from the language of the Public Records Act, or will the Court perform the analysis and punt the issue to the Legislature for follow up? Either way, the Court’s ruling likely will have a significant impact on the topic.

- See more at: http://www.bbknowledge.com/public-safety/is-an-officers-name-private/#sthash.vQegwFab.dpuf

On March 4th of this year, the California Supreme Court will hear Long Beach Police Officers Association v. City of Long Beach et al. (Los Angeles Times Communications LLC, Real Party in Interest). The Court will hear argument on this specific question: Are the names of police officers involved in on-duty shooting incidents subject to disclosure under the California Public Records Act?

The court agreed to review the case after the Court of Appeal upheld a trial court’s order denying a request to stop the release of law enforcement officer names involved in a shooting. The trial court also found that the names of the officers could not be withheld from the public.

The case will provide further guidance in a contentious area of the law, and will hopefully balance the concerns of law enforcement in safeguarding officers from possible reprisal with the desire of the public to have the information disclosed.

Often overlooked in this balance is that not only are the officers potentially placed at risk, but also members of their families. This aspect should factor into the analysis at some point and perhaps the California Supreme Court will take this into account.

Though officers routinely provide their names to members of the public upon request and display their names on their uniforms, the issue is not the information itself, but the circumstances of the release. Certainly, public policy strongly favors disclosure of officer names, as this Los Angeles Times article underscores. However, the critical nature of officer involved shootings coupled with the potential safety concerns presents a strong argument against disclosure.

Will the California Supreme Court craft a common sense rule from the language of the Public Records Act, or will the Court perform the analysis and punt the issue to the Legislature for follow up? Either way, the Court’s ruling likely will have a significant impact on the topic.


DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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