In early 2019, reporters from the Investigative Reporting Program at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism obtained a list of criminal convictions from the past decade of nearly 12,000 current or former law enforcement officers and people who applied to be in law enforcement. The records — provided by the state’s Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training in response to a Public Records Act request — didn’t indicate which individuals on the list actually worked in law enforcement nor the departments where they were employed.
Instead of providing any more information, POST referred the reporters to state Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s office, which wrote the reporters a letter calling the release of the records “inadvertent” and indicating mere possession of the document was a crime. The letter instructed the reporters to destroy the list or face legal action.
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Instead, the reporting program formed an unprecedented collaboration to investigate the list, involving three dozen news outlets across the state.
Berkeley reporters first performed a simple name match, comparing the individuals on the supposedly secret convictions list with a roster of current and former peace officers, which was also obtained from POST. The effort found about 4,000 of the individuals with a conviction had the same name as someone who had been a cop in California. Given the volume, the reporters identified cases involving officers who would have been employed in the past decade, focusing largely on non-driving offenses.
Reporters across the state then fanned out to inspect case files from local courthouses in almost every county. They encountered numerous hurdles including poor record keeping, uncooperative clerks and hundreds of destroyed files. They ultimately reviewed about 1,000 files. Some were clearly false matches — a person convicted of a crime who merely shared the same name as a cop. Many, however, were clearly officers. In cases where it wasn’t clear, the reporters used other public records and interviewed sources to confirm identities.
Reporters also searched news clips from the past decade to bolster the research.
In the end, the effort identified 630 officers convicted of a crime since late 2008. That is clearly an underestimate, but it is also the most comprehensive public accounting of criminal convictions involving peace officers in California.
Those cases now comprise a database created for this project, and are the basis for the news articles produced by the collaboration.
DAWG SAYS REMEMBER TOO MANY OFFICERS RESIGN ALMOST IMMEDIATELY TO AVOID A PUBLIC SCANDAL, THEN ARE HIRED ELSEWHERE.