A judge has rejected a police union's argument that the public is not entitled to learn the names of officers involved in shootings. The contention that some of the information might provoke unlawful acts in the future is too speculative to warrant an order blocking release of the information requested by the Los Angeles Times, report Victoria Kim and Richard Winton.
In an order dated Wednesday, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Patrick T. Madden refused to grant a preliminary injunction in a case filed by the Long Beach Police Officers Assn., which had argued that the officers' names were protected personnel information and that releasing them would jeopardize officers' safety.
The Long Beach union sued the city after a public records request from a Times reporter for the names of officers involved in shootings since 2005. The request covered a Dec. 12 shooting in which police shot and killed a man holding a water nozzle that officers mistook for a gun
"Neither the LBPOA nor the City has supplied anything beyond the generalized and speculative invocation of fear that someone, somewhere … may ultimately use names that are disclosed as stepping stones to find the officers and hurt them or their families," the judge wrote. There "are other ways for the officers' identities to become known to those who have an axe to grind."
He also wrote that the release of the information sought by The Times "would not constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy" and that the names of officers involved in shootings was "not privileged."
James Trott, an attorney for the union, said that whether or not there are specific dangers does not matter because the names are part of the officers' personnel files and exempt from public disclosure. He said he would ask the court for a stay on Monday in order to seek a writ from the appellate courts.
Trott said having to prove the danger to officers' safety is "a standard that's very difficult to meet." "People don't always announce their bad intensions," he said.
City Atty. Robert Shannon said the city would join the union in its writ, saying he disagreed with the court that the city had the burden of proving that there is a danger to officers. He said the generalized danger was enough to justify the names being barred from release.
"We understand there is a public interest in it, but there is also a right of privacy held by the officers," he said.
The Times had sought the records contending it would allow for the independent examination of the conduct and tactics of police officers. In arguments before Madden on Monday, Alonzo Wickers IV, an attorney for The Times, argued that the officers' names were not protected personnel information and that neither the city nor the union had offered proof that officers faced danger if their identities were made public.
He noted outside court that because officer-involved shootings are investigated as a criminal matter as well as an internally, their names would be in records outside the officers' personnel files.