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The California Public Records Act and Arrest Reports

The California Public Records Act (CPRA) allows individuals to obtain certain information from police records. Unfortunately, some law enforcement agencies refuse to comply with public records laws. Find some information below that may help you obtain information from an arrest report or incident report via a public records request under the CPRA.

The law is clear: while actual copies of law enforcement investigatory records may be exempt from disclosure, certain information contained within those records must be disclosed upon request. That information includes factual circumstances concerning an arrest, including the name and description of the arrestee and charges associated with the arrest, and factual circumstances concerning "complaints or requests for assistance" including a description of what crimes were alleged and whether any weapons, property, or injuries were involved. See Cal. Gov't Code §6254(f)(1)-(2)(a). 

Courts, too, have recognized this right. The California Fourth District Court of Appeals stated:

"In construing a disclosure request, the policy of the PRA requires the courts to consider the information that is being requested, not only the precise type of records that must be provided. For example, an agency may be required to produce the 'substance' of complaints and the 'factual circumstances surrounding the crime or incident' even if a requested arrest record is exempt from disclosure." (internal citations omitted) (Cmty Youth Athletic Ctr. v. City of Nat’l City (2013) 220 Cal.App.4th 1385 citing Haynie v. Superior Court (2001) 26 Cal.4th 1061.)

Despite the law, some law enforcement agencies refuse to provide public information from arrest reports and incident reports. For example, here's a letter from the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department refusing to provide public information contained within an arrest report.   

If you have requested your records, and have been turned down, try re-requesting by citing to 6254(f)(1)-(2)(a) and asking for public information contained within the requested records. Remember, also, that an agency has the discretion to request an actual copy of the record if it chooses, so consider suggesting that it does. 

Here's a blurb with follow-up language to send to an agency if you've been denied information from your arrest report. 

"The California Public Records Act requires that certain information contained within a police report must be disclosed upon request, even if the actual copy of the report is exempt from disclosure. (Cal. Gov. Code 6254(f)(1)-(2)(a).) Additionally, the CPRA exemptions are permissive rather than mandatory. (Cal. Gov. Code 6253(e).) It seems the easiest way to provide me with the information I am entitled to is to provide a copy of the police report in this matter, and I am requesting that you do so under the CPRA. If you are unwilling to provide a copy, I am requesting the information I am entitled to from the report, as stated in Cal. Gov. Code 6254(f)."

If you send that language to a law enforcement agency, and it still does not provide the information, it may be time to contact an attorney.

Abenicio Cisneros