Vol. 15 No. 8- Public Records Act Demand Regarding Guns

October 18, 2000

To: All Police Chiefs and Sheriffs

From: Martin J. Mayer and Cynthia W. Blaylock



Many of our clients recently received a California Public Records Act (CPRA) demand from the law firm of Trutanich & Michel, LLP. The request asks for several categories of information, including information regarding handguns approved for on duty, off duty and back-up use, department firearms’ policies, types of handguns sold to retiring peace officers, copies of departmental orders regarding firearms, and statistical information on accidental and negligent discharges.

With the exception of the last demand for “statistical information on the number of accidental or negligent discharges of duty of (sic) off-duty handguns by members of your Department for calendar years 1997, 1998 and 1999,” we believe the requests for information may be legally denied.

“. . . nothing in this chapter shall be construed to require disclosure of records that are any of the following:

“(f) Records of complaints to, or investigations conducted by, or records of intelligence information or security procedures of, the office of the Attorney General and the Department of Justice, and any state or local police agency …. ”
(emphasis added)

This exemption was confirmed in South Coast Newspapers, Inc. v. City of Oceanside (1984) 160 Cal.App.3d 261. In this case, a newspaper filed a civil action seeking to inspect or obtain a copy of a police report of an investigation of a high school principal for his alleged failure to report an incident of child abuse. The Court of Appeal held that under the CPRA, the newspaper was entitled to receive a copy of the report if the trial court made certain determinations. One of those determinations was that “the life or physical safety of law enforcement personnel will not be endangered.” 160 Cal.App.3d at 264-265.

It is our belief that disclosure of a list of handguns officers are allowed to carry on and off-duty, or as back-up weapons, may potentially jeopardize the officers’ safety. This is especially true of the request for information regarding firearms carried by specialized units. Additionally, the disclosure of whether officers even carry back-up weapons creates officer safety concerns.

Disclosing the types of handguns sold to retiring peace officers could also jeopardize officer safety, because it is safe to assume that those handguns are the same type carried by current officers. Likewise, the disclosure of department policies covering these subjects would also be exempt from disclosure.

Several departments have informed us that some of this information has already been disclosed to their respective City Councils pursuant to the budgetary process. If that is true in your jurisdiction then, obviously, that information is already in the public domain and must be disclosed as part of your response to this demand. In all cases, however, it is necessary to reply to the CPRA demand within ten (10) days, even if it is to deny the request for information.

As always we urge that you confer with your department’s legal advisor for guidance in this matter. If you or your department’s counsel would like to discuss these issues in greater detail, please feel free to call Martin Mayer or Cynthia Blaylock at (562) 590-8280.



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