Legal Update Impacting Confidentiality of Peace Officers’ Personnel Files – Senate Bill 400

On February 29, 2024, Governor Newsom signed into law Senate Bill 400, allowing law enforcement agencies to release statements announcing terminations of police officers and custody officers.  This law is the latest demonstration of California’s commitment to transparency and granting the public more access to information concerning law enforcement employment matters.  This new legislation further amends Penal Code section 832.7 and permits, but does not mandate, employing law enforcement agencies, to disclose peace officer terminations for cause and their reasons, under certain circumstances.  This bill passed both the Assembly and Senate unanimously.  Its passage was not without controversy, as opponents initially feared disclosure of terminations would be mandatory. 

Historically under Penal Code section 832.7, personnel records of peace officers and custodial officers were deemed confidential, and accessible only to parties involved in civil and criminal litigation.  In 2019, the law was amended to grant public access through public records requests related to officer involved shootings, use of force incidents resulting in death or serious injuries, or where there are sustained findings of dishonesty or sexual assault. More recently, Penal Code section 832.7 was further amended as a result of SB 2 to require the disclosure of serious misconduct including, but not limited to, unlawful arrests or searches, and making statements demonstrating bias and prejudice.  Senate Bill 400 furthers California’s trend of increased transparency in law enforcement terminations.

An agency’s decision to disclose a law enforcement termination is a delicate one.  There are many considerations that a law enforcement agency should consider, such as the timing of the disclosure, how much information to disclose, and what precedent, if any, the law enforcement agency will be setting by making such a disclosure.

As always, please don’t hesitate to contact the authors of this Blog alert or your usual AALRR attorney with any questions.

This AALRR posting is intended for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon in reaching a conclusion in a particular area of law. Applicability of the legal principles discussed may differ substantially in individual situations. Receipt of this or any other AALRR publication does not create an attorney-client relationship. The Firm is not responsible for inadvertent errors that may occur in the publishing process. 

© 2024 Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo

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