The California Reporting Project, a newsgathering collaboration, has worked to request and analyze records from law enforcement agencies to report on use of force and misconduct cases around the state, with a focus toward community-engaged and impactful journalism.
Lawmakers passed the landmark “Right to Know Act” in 2018, chipping away at a four-decade wall of secrecy concerning police internal investigations and officer discipline in California. SB 1421 makes public three categories of records:
Years after this law took effect, some records have been made public; many others have not.
The California Reporting Project now includes dozens of organizations: from daily newspapers to public radio stations, nonprofit news groups to college journalism programs. Together these organizations have opened hundreds of public records requests with law enforcement agencies in California.
After consulting sources from activists to officers, the California Reporting Project has developed a database for police files.
Scanning and collecting records is just the start. Police reports are subjective and often narrative documents; accounts may conflict. That’s why two people read each record to pull facts from it before an editor reviews entries. The result is a database created to quantify uses of force, sexual misconduct, and dishonesty on the job among California law enforcement agencies.
NPR and KQED reporters examined select misconduct cases and the shadowy world of police discipline. The result is a long-form podcast, "On Our Watch", which debuted in May 2021.
You know the refrain. With each new scandal involving law enforcement, another horrific video of misconduct, evidence of assault, or act of fatal negligence, police officials tell the public: "We're investigating."
But what really happens inside those internal investigations that promise accountability? For decades, the process for how police police themselves has been inconsistent, if not opaque. In some states, like California, these proceedings were completely hidden behind a wall of official secrecy.
"On Our Watch" brings listeners into the rooms where officers are questioned and witnesses are interrogated to find out who this system is really protecting. Is it the officers, or the public they've sworn to serve?
Even before SB 1421 took effect, police unions appealed to the California Supreme Court for extraordinary relief to block it. When that didn’t work, police unions filed dozens of challenges in county courts. Members of the California Reporting Project have fought for transparency in court:
CRP members have produced hundreds of original SB 1421 stories, both about police misconduct files and the fight to access them.
Some recent examples: