The public has the right to known the names of police officers who were involved in critical incidents, though there may be situations in which officers’ safety concerns or the integrity of the case outweigh this presumption of openness, according to an opinion released Tuesday by California Attorney General Jerry Brown.
Access to police officers’ names has been restricted since the California Supreme Court held in Copley Press v. Superior Court that records regarding police misconduct charges are confidential. Since Copley, some California agencies have used the decision to withhold police information universally.
In October, the Los Angeles Times found that the Los Angeles Police Department had failed to release details about approximately 200 confrontations involving its officers, including the officers’ names. The five-member Los Angeles Police Commission voted in 2005 to exclude the names of police officers from the reports.
Prior to the commission’s vote, the newspaper used the police reports to investigate officers who frequently used deadly force, sometimes in dubious situations. The paper has been unable to do a follow-up analysis since the commission’s decision.