Los Angeles: Certain media organizations have recently reported that the Los Angeles Police Department has “refused” to provide the names and other personnel information relating to those involved in the accidental fireworks explosion that occurred in June 2021 on East 27th Street. The suggestion in those reports – that the Department is improperly choosing to withhold such information – is misleading and erroneous. The simple fact is that the Department is prohibited by statute from disclosing the peace officer personnel information requested and from discussing the details of any discipline imposed on any particular peace officers involved in the June 2021 incident, pursuant to California Penal Code Section 832.7(a). That provision generally makes peace officer personnel records and information confidential, and prohibits an agency from disclosing such records and information, subject to certain enumerated exceptions.
Additionally, one media report has erroneously stated that one of those exceptions, set forth in Penal Code Section 832.7(b)(1)(A)(i) – which allows an agency to disclose peace officer personnel records relating to “a use of force against a person by an officer” resulting in great bodily injury – authorizes the disclosure of disciplinary information relating to the June 2021 incident. The Department believes such an interpretation is not supported by the law, because the accidental fireworks explosion was not a “use of force.” For example, California Penal Code Section 835a makes clear that a “use of force” by an officer consists of a volitional act directed at a person – a “decision by a peace officer” to employ physical force “upon another person” in service of certain public safety aims, such as to effect arrest, prevent escape, overcome resistance, or to defend against a threat of death or serious bodily injury to an officer or another person. There is nothing in Section 835a to suggest that a use of force includes accidental conduct that is not directed at any individual.
The Los Angeles Police Department remains committed to transparency to the full extent allowed by law. Notwithstanding the fact that the Department is prohibited by Penal Code Section 832.7(a) from voluntarily disclosing to members of the public any peace officer personnel records or information relating to the June 2021 incident, it should be noted that there is pending litigation regarding this incident, so more information will likely be disclosed in response to authorized discovery or other legal process in such proceedings. To the extent that media entities and others believe that existing statutory restrictions on the release of information do not serve the public’s interest, they are free to pursue legislative changes to those laws.