The ACLU of Northern California (ACLU-NC) today filed a California Public Records Act request seeking to prompt the San Jose Police Department (SJPD) to release police reports relating to all 2007 arrests for public intoxication. The formal request for the reports stems from the recent revelation, reported in the San Jose Mercury News, that the SJPD arrests people for alleged public drunkenness at extraordinarily high rates, and that a disproportionate number of those arrested are Latino.
"Full openness with the public about matters of controversy and concern fosters trust," stated Skyler Porras, Director of the ACLU of Northern California's San Jose Office.
An Independent Police Auditors Report presented to the Mayor and the City Council on November 10, 2008, examined 68 recent complaints and uncovered a disturbing pattern pointing to possible misuse of the public intoxication law. A majority of the police reports did not detail "an individualized description of how the arrestee was unable to care for self or others" as required by law. The IPA further found language in these reports suggesting that the arrests were not based on the particular elements of the public drunkenness law at all.
The ACLU sees transparency in the matter as a "win-win" proposition.
"If the reports show that the department is making public drunkenness arrests appropriately, then public confidence in the agency will improve," continued Porras. "If the reports detail widespread problems, the commitment to transparency will demonstrate a good faith effort to document and respond to a matter of significant public concern."
In a letter to Chief Rob Davis, the ACLU of Northern California argues that releasing the reports is the best way to provide the public with the most complete picture of the SJPD's actual enforcement practices. Each incident report should contain the specific facts and circumstances surrounding the arrests, thereby disproving concern by the IPA that "standard descriptions" or boilerplate language is being used without regard to individual circumstances, as the law requires.
The ACLU has requested that the SJPD respond to the request within 10 days.
For several years, the ACLU of Northern California has urged the San Jose City Council to enact a sunshine law that would provide greater public access to police reports.
"One benefit of a sunshine law in San Jose would be an increase in public confidence that the police are enforcing laws fairly, lawfully and without bias for or against any ethnic or racial group, as our state and federal constitutions require," said attorney Alan Schlosser, who is the legal director of ACLU of Northern California.