The Peace Officers Release of Records Act or Senate Bill 1421 requires law enforcement agencies to make public, information about officers who engage in serious misconduct, like use of excessive force, falsifying evidence and sexual assault. Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco says the department was ready to implement the law on January 1, of this year, when the law went into effect.
“I’m not about withholding any information,” says Sheriff Bianco.
But it’s tied up in the courts because the Riverside Sheriffs Association is suing arguing the law was not meant to be retroactive.
“Records that we did have in our possession, we were going to release those, hence the lawsuit to prevent those because you have attorneys on one side saying it was retroactive on the other side you have attorneys saying it was only from January 1 forward,” says Sheriff Bianco adding he believes in transparency but the law is complicated.
“That’s where the question lies and we as well as the other associations feel that if it was meant to be retroactive they would have spelled it out as retroactive,” says RSA President Bill Young, they believe this violates the rights of officers who were employed before SB 1421 was signed into law in 2018.
Sheriff Bianco says the community has a right to know about deputies who are unethical, “We are a public agency, other than protected information by law you should be able to get that information easily and we will be moving toward that.”
Sheriff Bianco says he is concerned about the manpower and money it will take to implement the law, especially when the body camera video portion of the law goes into effect in the summer. He says paperwork must be redacted to protect victims and video software must be purchased to process video. He’s still not sure how many people it will take to fulfill the requests.
But he says he can also see the argument the RSA is making, “When you have that interpretation of the law there’s a mistake in that law and that’s why we need clarification we need guidance we need a higher court interpreting that or it needs to be re written.”
But Sheriff Bianco says without question his department will not protect officers who violate their code of ethics, “I‘m not beholden to anyone, any officer or deputy that really makes our department look bad so it’s really just all about clarification about the intent of the law.”
Both sides say they believe in working together with the media and community.
The next hearing on the case will be in March.