Councilman: Police Should Reconsider Destroying Files

Published : Thursday, December 5, 2013 | 6:02 AM

City Councilman John J. Kennedy said that the Pasadena Police Dept. should reconsider its current policy of destroying Internal Affairs investigation and non-hire background files after five years in light of a survey which shows the Los Angeles Police Dept. keeps similar files forever.

The survey investigated how long local cities of a size similar to Pasadena retain police investigation records and included the LAPD in the published results.

The survey was the result of Kennedy’s request during the September 16 City Council discussion about Pasadena Police Department file destruction policy for the comparison.

Heated discussion included public comment at the Public Safety Committee meeting just before the Council meeting questioned whether five years was enough time to keep documents on investigations.

“There are legitimate reasons on both sides to keep the documents or to destroy, however, because of the extraordinary powers that are afforded law enforcement in our country it is probably wise to give more deference to the retention of records as opposed to the destruction of records,” Councilmember John Kennedy said in an interview on Monday.

Of the nine municipalities contacted, six police departments had similar procedures to Pasadena Police Department, purging most files after 3-6 years.

However, a consent decree from the Federal Government mandating reform of the Burbank Police Department requires complaint records be retained forever. Los Angeles County also requires the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) keep complaint records forever, although the consent decree on the LAPD was lifted in 2009.

LAPD retain non-hire sworn and non-sworn applicant files for over ten years and Glendale Police Department keeps non-hire files indefinitely by scanning the files.

Files involving a risk management or potential liability event, specified offenses (sexual misconduct, racial bias, Officer Involved Shootings) and repeated demonstrated conduct are retained indefinitely on case-specific circumstances in all the polled police departments.

Councilmember Kennedy noted that although in recent memory LAPD has fallen from its perch of being the leader agency, it is rapidly moving toward being a “first in class agency.”

“It would be consistent for an agency like Pasadena to understand exactly why [Los Angeles Police Department] has opted to retain their records forever and see if the same reasoning is applicable to the city of Pasadena,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy said part of the reason the records are retained are for the benefit of the civilian oversight of its police department.

“The City of Pasadena does not have civilian oversight. The Public Safety Committee has no intrinsic authority to be that oversight,” Kennedy said.

State law requires police departments must keep Internal Affairs investigation files for at least five years and non-hire background files for a minimum of two. The law also calls for police chiefs to obtain authorization from the city council before purging Internal Affairs investigation files.

At the City Council meeting Police Chief Sanchez said in accordance with the law, common practice of police agencies is to destroy internal affairs documents related to hiring documents. In response to dialogue about whether the information could be retained digitally Chief Sanchez said the answer is yes.

“The medium of storage though frankly is irrelevant. The files would still exist. They would still be subject for litigation. The request for this body is to comply with best practices and with the law and that we start to destroy those documents from 1997-2007,” Chief Sanchez said at the meeting where it was approved to destroy the files.

The investigation files from 1997 to 2007 were background files on people who applied for department jobs but were not hired. None of the designated files were involved in litigation. The documents are kept in a storeroom in the police department.