As soon as next Monday, San Francisco police are expected to begin releasing records about police shootings and confirmed cases of officer misconduct that have never been made public before. The unprecedented move follows a new state transparency law passed last year.
The documents, which will be released on a rolling basis, are being made public in response to public records requests filed under Senate Bill 1421, according to San Francisco Police Department spokesperson David Stevenson.
The records are expected to shed light on how the SFPD handled investigations into shootings by its own officers, as well as cases in which officers have been found to have lied or committed sexual assault.
“Finally we’ll get some transparency and we’ll be able to see the quality of the investigation the government does into its police officers,” said Kathleen Guneratne, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California. “We’re going to see some of the underlying sources and source information.”
Stevenson said he does not have an estimate on how many records will be released, but that the department has thus far received “73 requests that encompass thousands of individual cases or investigations.”
While the new law took effect Jan. 1, the SFPD was blocked from releasing records under a lawsuit that the San Francisco Police Officers Association filed in an attempt to prevent the release of records regarding incidents that occurred before 2019, when the law took effect.
But a judge ordered the department to release the records last Friday after the police association moved to dismiss the lawsuit. That same day, the First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco certified an earlier decision setting precedent for law enforcement across the state to release the records.
“Transparency is important to the SFPOA and the pending release of information that may not shine the best light on individuals from our profession will assist us all in working together to improve trust amongst San Franciscans,” said Tom Saggau, a spokesperson for the union.
The ACLU had intervened in the SFPOA lawsuit on behalf of the families of four people who were shot and killed by San Francisco police. Among them was the older sister of Jesus Adolfo Delgado Duarte, who was fatally shot in the trunk of a car last year after allegedly pulling a gun on a group of officers.
“I want to know if these officers have histories of misconduct or lying,” Martha Torres said in a court filing. “I have heard that these officers were all rookies. I want to know how SFPD trains and supervises inexperienced officers. I do not understand how they were allowed to fire 99 bullets at my 19-year-old brother.”
It’s unclear how the SFPD will make the records public. The ACLU, Public Defender’s Office and media outlets have all made requests.
Stevenson said various city agencies are developing a method to release the records with the Mayor’s Office and Department of Technology.
The District Attorney’s Office has already released records to KQED about an investigator who was disciplined for wrongly issuing a subpoena.
Like the SFPD, the Sheriff’s Department also plans to start releasing records next week.
Department of Police Accountability Director Paul Henderson does not expect the DPA to release records by Monday because of the “voluminous” number of requests and because of obstacles including the SFPOA lawsuit.
The SFPD and DPA, which investigates complaints against officers, have both hired staff to handle the requests, while the Sheriff’s Department reallocated staff.
The SFPD has five sworn officers and five civilian staffers working on the requests, as well as one staff member solely working on them.
Henderson said he has the full DPA legal team of 10 people working on them.
“Transparency is super important because we feel that it’s part of civilian oversight and police reform,” Henderson said. “As a nation, all of the police reforms and justice reforms, this speaks to that.”