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Inglewood Mayor Offers Up Excuse for Purging Police Shooting Records Before Public Access Law Goes Into Effect

The city of Inglewood, Calif., has cleared plans to destroy more than 100 records of police use of force as determined at a council meeting earlier this month. This comes weeks before a new state law goes into effect to give the public access to such records, the Los Angeles Times reported.

According to the Dec. 22 article, the purge has bothered civil liberties advocates who backed Senate Bill 142. Come Jan. 1, internal probes into police shootings and other significant uses of force, verified cases of sexual assault and lying while on duty will be available for the public to review.

Mayor James T. Butts

Inglewood Mayor James Butts defends the city’s move to purge police shooting records in advance of their becoming public on Jan. 1. (Photo by Ted Soqui/Corbis via Getty Images)

In a statement, Marcus Benigno, a spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, said the bill was passed thanks to demand from the community to end the long practice of secrecy in the department.

“The legislature passed SB 1421 because communities demanded an end to the secrecy cloaking police misconduct and use of force,” Benigno said. “Inglewood PD’s decision to purge records undermines police accountability and transparency against the will of Californians.”

It’s a state law that police departments must retain files of officer shootings and internal misconduct investigations for five years. For officer-involved shootings, the department requires records to be obtained for 25 years after the close of an investigation. IPD requires six-year retention for other kinds of incident reports. Inglewood has records dating back to 1991. State Sen. Nancy Skinner, a Democrat who wrote SB 1421, intended the bill to provide public access to all department records that fit the description of abuse, regardless of when the incident happened.

During a Dec. 11 City Council meeting which OKed the purge, no mention of the impending law was made. Rather, it said the records in question were “obsolete, occupy valuable space, and are of no further use to the police department.” Such records are typically shredded, as noted in the meeting. Whether or not the records have been destroyed since then is unclear.

By Sunday, Dec. 23, Mayor James T. Butts, who was elected to office in 2011, released a statement defending the controversial purge.

“This premise that there was an intent to beat the clock is ridiculous,” he said adding that there’s nothing to be afraid of as far as liability. “How would they be embarrassing to me? I wasn’t even here for those records. The records are what they are.”

Speaking to ABC 7’s Eyewitness News, the mayor said “it’s actually quite routine for us to do records destruction. The Finance Department, the Police Department and other entities — whenever they want to destroy records that exceed a time limit — they submit a staff report to the City Council and the City Council approves or disapproves the records destruction.”

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