Woodland, California—The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) sued the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) to obtain materials showing how police are trained in the use of force, after the organization cited third-party copyright interests to illegally withhold them from the public.
The lawsuit, filed under California’s Public Records Act (PRA), seeks a court order forcing POST to make public unredacted copies of outlines for a number of police training courses, including training on use of force. As the country struggles to process the many painful-to-watch examples of extensive and deadly use of force by police, Californians have a right to know what officers are being trained to do, and how they are being trained. The complaint was filed yesterday in the Superior Court of California, Yolo County.
California lawmakers recognized the need for more transparency in law enforcement by passing SB 978, which took effect last year. The law requires POST and local law enforcement agencies to publish, in a conspicuous space on their websites, training manuals and other materials about policies and practices.
“POST is unlawfully hiding this material,” said EFF Staff Attorney Cara Gagliano. “SB 978 is clear—police must allow the public to see its training manuals. Doing so helps educate the community about what to expect and how to behave during police encounters, and helps to hold police accountable when they don’t comply with their training.”
As part of a 2020 review of POST’s compliance with the law, EFF discovered that the use of force training materials were not on its website. EFF requested the documents under the PRA and was sent copies of documents listing use of force training providers and certification dates. The only substantive documents it received were heavily redacted copies of the course outlines, with just the subject headings visible.
POST said it would not make public the material because the California Peace Officers Association (CPOA), which created the training manuals, had made a copyright claim over the materials and requested they not be published on a public website. POST agreed, citing compliance with federal copyright law.
But SB 978 mandates that POST must publish training manuals if the materials would be available to the public under the PRA, which does not contain any exception for copyrighted material. What’s more, the PRA says state agencies can’t allow “other parties” to control whether information subject to the law can be disclosed.
“Copyright law is not a valid excuse for POST to evade its obligation under the law to make training materials public,” said Gagliano. “Police and the organizations that create their training manuals are not above the law."
For the complaint:
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