It might seem like a no-brainer to assume that communities should have a right to know if the people tasked with enforcing law and order are, themselves, criminals. But according to a new report, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra reportedly threatened legal action against a pair of reporters who obtained—through a public records request—an official, previously unpublished list of California police officers who have been convicted of breaking the law.
The East Bay Times reported on Tuesday that the list, created by the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST), was given to a pair of unnamed journalists working with UC Berkeley’s Investigative Reporting Program this past month after the reporters filed a standard California Public Records Act with the commission. The list contains the names of nearly 12,000 convicted cops from the past decade and has not been fully published, program director John Temple told the Times. Temple told the paper that the journalists who received the information were busy reporting out the details included therein in order to avoid any misidentifications.
Nevertheless, Becerra has reportedly taken steps to ensure that none of the information in the list be made public at all—going so far as to threaten the journalists who received the information with legal action by claiming that the list was accidentally released, and that simply being in possession of it is against the law. The journalists, Becerra said, should destroy the information immediately.
An attorney representing the Investigative Reporting Program has pushed back on Becerra’s “inadvertent” claim, arguing to the Times that the reporters worked with POST for weeks before they received the information about the convicted cops.
This isn’t Becerra’s first run-in with the First Amendment in February. Earlier this month, he was sued by the First Amendment Coalition over his refusal to release police misconduct records, despite a new state law saying his office has to do exactly that.
While the full extent of which police officers have been convicted for what remains hidden for now, the Times reports that the list includes cops who have been found guilty of assault, child pornography, financial crimes, and even murder.
When asked if POST is using the list to determine whether or not active officers who’ve committed crimes are on the list, spokesperson Phil Caporale responded: “There’s that potential. That’s what we’re trying to eliminate...to make sure no one out there is a peace officer today who shouldn’t be.”