The right to know

The public has the right to know the name of any police officer who has been involved in a shooting that has resulted in death. That is what is logical when it comes to the transparency of public officials’ activities. However, that is not the case.

The California Supreme Court is considering a case filed by the Los Angeles Times and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), to ensure that there is no special treatment or exceptions to the California Public Records Act.

In this 2010 case, two Long Beach police officers shot and killed a man who was holding a silver garden hose nozzle in his hand. Soon after, several media outlets and the ACLU unsuccessfully requested the names of the officers involved in the incident—which the county district attorney declared a justified shooting.

The police union opposed the release of the names, arguing that it would put the officers in danger of retribution. The lower courts ruled in favor of the media, and the case rose to the state’s Supreme Court.

This case has led to arguments on behalf of the anonymity of the officers, because they were involved in a serious, controversial incident—the shooting in Long Beach. On the other hand, when the shooting includes heroic acts, the opposite happens: their names are everywhere.

While it is normal for a police department to react in different ways to various incidents involving its officers, it is not reasonable for the law to vary in the same manner. People, and taxpayers, have the right to know the names of the officers, no matter the details of the shooting.

California’s law reaffirms the importance of transparency in the work of public officials. Of course, this includes law enforcement officers.