SB 978 Requires Law Enforcement Agencies to Publish Standards, Policies and Practices Online
SB 978, which takes effect on January 1, 2020, requires law enforcement agencies to make available online in a “conspicuous” manner all internal documents that would be considered “current standards, policies, practices, operating procedures, and education and training materials” and that would otherwise be available to the public if requested through the California Public Records Act (PRA). The stated purpose of this new requirement is to make law enforcement agency policies more accessible to the public and to educate the public about law enforcement policies, practices and procedures. The goal is to increase communication and community trust, enhance transparency, and save the cost and labor associated with responding to individual PRA requests for this information.
Next Steps for SB 978 Compliance
- Law enforcement agencies should begin by collecting and reviewing any current standards, policies, practices, operating procedures, and education and training materials that they maintain.
- Law enforcement agencies should not make available online, nor withhold documents from posting online, without careful review.
- Law enforcement agencies should only post online those documents that would otherwise be released pursuant to a PRA request. While reviewing internal documents for potential online posting, the analysis should focus on the statutory disclosure exemptions provided by the PRA.
How to Handle PRA Disclosure Exemptions when Complying with SB 978
The PRA contains more than 70 exemptions, a few disclosure prohibitions, and a balancing test referred to as the “public interest” test. This test justifies the withholding of a record when the facts of a specific case demonstrate that the public interest in nondisclosure clearly outweighs the public interest in disclosure. There are two key points to keep in mind:
- The specific exemption (or prohibition) must be identified in a local agency’s response to a PRA request when the local agency claims an exemption (or prohibition) to disclose all or part of a record.
- If a record contains some information that is subject to an exemption and other information that is not, the local agency may redact the exempt information but must still disclose the record.
When complying with SB 978, law enforcement agencies should follow the general PRA response procedures outlined above when deciding: (1) which internal documents would be considered “current standards, policies, practices, operating procedures, and education and training materials” and (2) which such documents would be available to the public if requested through a PRA request. Meyers Nave attorneys are available to assist law enforcement agencies with the new requirements of SB 978, including providing compliance training to law enforcement agency personnel that are responsible for implementing new SB 978 compliance protocols and handling PRA requests.