Appellate Court Holds that Analyses of Departmental Procedures and Recommendations for Institutional Reform Are not Exempt from the Public Records Act Pursuant to the Pitchess Statutes

In the wake of a March 2012 shooting of an unarmed teenager, the City of Pasadena retained an independent consultant to review Pasadena Police Department policies. After the completion of the independent consultant's report, various interested parties made requests for the report under the Public Records Act (PRA). The Pasadena Police Officers Association (Association), along with the officers involved in the shooting, filed a reverse PRA request to prevent the report's disclosure.

The trial court ordered public disclosure of the report. However, it found that certain portions were exempt from disclosure pursuant to the Pitchess statutes, which exempt personnel records of peace officers. The trial court ordered that those portions of the report be redacted. The Association and the two individual officers then filed a petition to preclude disclosure of the report. The appellate court held that the trial court was correct in its determination that the report is a public record, portions of which contained confidential personnel information exempt from disclosure. However, the appellate court found that the trial court redacted portions of the report that were not exempt from disclosure.

The Pitchess statutes provide for two categories of confidential records: (1) personnel records; and (2) records of citizen complaints about individual officers, and reports or findings relating to investigation of such complaints. The appellate court found that portions of the report that were not exempt from disclosure included analyses of the Police Department's administrative investigation and departmental policies as well as recommendations by the independent consultant. The Court reasoned that those portions of the report were not criticisms or appraisals directed at officer conduct. The Court further reasoned that these portions of the report were not prepared in response to a citizen complaint. Rather, the report was conducted to analyze the shooting and its aftermath for the purposes of determining what lessons could be learned, and to recommend institutional reforms. Thus, the appellate court ordered the lower court to conduct additional proceedings to reconsider which portions of the report contain confidential information, and order additional material released.

Pasadena Police Officers Association v. Superior Court of Los Angeles County (2015) __ Cal.Rptr.3d __ [2015 WL 5281818].