For decades, investigations of police shootings and beatings, allegations of dishonesty and sexual assault, and other kinds of police misconduct were kept secret from the public. Laws like the Public Safety Officers Procedural Bill of Rights Act protected officers from public scrutiny, even those who were disciplined for serious misdeeds. This all changed in 2019 when Senate Bill 1421 went into effect. Authored by East Bay state Senator Nancy Skinner, SB 1421 required cities, for the first time, to hand over certain types of police misconduct case files to the public, when requested.
View Oakland’s SB1421 records
The new website includes previously confidential investigation files of police shootings, excessive force, dishonesty, sexual assault, prejudice, failure to intervene, and unlawful searches and arrests.
Now, a new city website is gathering many of Oakland’s police misconduct files in one place. The Oakland City Attorney’s office announced the website Thursday at a meeting of the Police Commission.
“We understand transparency is fundamental to accountability,” Deputy City Attorney Veronica Harris told the commission.
The website contains links to dozens of case files, some more than two decades old. They include controversial police killings of unarmed people, like the fatal shootings of Andrew Moppin-Buckskin in 2007 and Mack “Jody” Woodfox in 2008, the infamous Riders case of 2000 in which a squad of West Oakland cops was accused of beating up and planting drugs on suspects, and the 2016 “Celeste Guap” case, when dozens of Bay Area police officers were implicated in the sex trafficking of a teenager.
Many of the records available on the new website were originally published by the city on its Nextrequest portal, where the city accepts and responds to public records requests. The city posted them there over the past several years in response to public records requests from journalists and others. But in her report to the Police Commission, Harris wrote that Nextrequest “is not particularly user-friendly.”
“We believe the website provides easier access and greater ability to search for desired records, for example, organizing the cases by disclosable category and allowing searches across cases by officer name,” Harris wrote.
The city attorney’s record on transparency with regard to police misconduct files has been mixed. The Oakland Police Department and City Attorney’s Office were slow to respond to multiple public records requests for police misconduct files after SB 1421 went into effect five years ago.
Oakland was ultimately sued by a group of journalists for violating state law and not responding to these requests. (Full disclosure: I filed a separate lawsuit against the city also seeking police records.) As a result of these lawsuits, the city began handing over police files in 2021 and it agreed to a settlement agreement to make public a vast number of police records.