We’ve been working with a group of folks working on tools for identifying police officers in real time, mostly by making and following up on1 CPRA requests to local police agencies for their rosters, which then go into various databases, including NN35007‘s fabulous Twitter bot @WhosThatCop.
We always ask for name, rank, numbers of various kinds,2 gender, and race, all of which are useful for identifying officers on the street. Most of the 40 or so agencies I sent requests to initially responded promptly and in material compliance with the law, but of course not all of them, so we’ve had to start filing lawsuits.
The causes of action are as bogus as usual, and only one was mildly surprising. The City’s airport agency, LAWA,3 had the nerve to claim that they don’t have responsive records. That is, they’re actually claiming that they don’t have a list of their own cops. They almost certainly have some idiotic bad-faith interpretation of my request which they think they can explain to the judge and thereby not get into trouble.
Sadly, they are correct that they won’t get into trouble since the law contains no getting-into-trouble clauses. In any case, this is probably a straightforward case as the CPRA requires agencies to assist requesters to make effective requests, which LAWA refused to do with me. Basically their strategy is to deny and see if they get sued and then at that time hand over the records. This is allowed under the law.
The other three agencies, which are the cities of Torrance, South Pasadena, and Monrovia, all released officers’ names but then refused to produce their genders and/or their races. They all claimed in one way or another that to do so would be to invade the officers’ privacy. Our entire argument is that this is information that can be obtained by looking at the officers, so it can’t be all that secret.4
In any case, cities rarely spend time making sure their bogus denials are even plausible. There’s no incentive for them to do so because most people won’t sue them, and if they don’t get sued nothing happens. This is a huge flaw in the CPRA,5 but one that’s not likely to be fixed. And we won’t get these records soon, but this is the only way to get them at all.
- Which is where the real work is!
- There’s no uniform cop numbering system in California, nor even in LA County. For instance, some agencies have badge numbers, some have serial numbers that aren’t displayed on badges, and some, like LAPD, use two parallel systems with no clear way to link up the two IDs.
- Stands for Los Angeles World Airports, which is as scummy a sinkhole as LADWP and then some. It is impenetrable.
- Clearly neither can be seen with complete accuracy, but we’re trying to win CPRA cases here, not explain modern conceptions of race and gender to the judges that hear these cases, and it’s not relevant to the argument anyway.
- I really believe that systems function as they’re intended to function, which is decidedly not a conspiracy theory, but it’s hard to explain in a way that doesn’t make it sound like one. So in this sense it’s not a flaw in the CPRA but a capability of the CPRA which is presently being exploited by people with means, motive, and opportunity.