Victory in California! Police Instructors Can’t Claim Copyright Protections to Block Release of Use-of-Force and Other Training Materials
After a two-year legal battle, the state agency that certifies police officers in California has agreed to EFF's demand that it stop using copyright concerns as a predicate to withhold law enforcement training materials from public scrutiny.
The immediate impact of this victory for transparency is the public will be able to visit the California Commission on Peace Officers Standards & Training (POST) website to inspect 19 previously unseen training outlines. These documents cover a variety of sensitive issues, such as police shootings and internal affairs investigations, and were developed by the California Peace Officers Association, which represents more than 23,000 law enforcement officers across the state. The longer term impact is that law enforcement agencies across California will no longer be able to rely on POST's practices to justify their own decisions to withhold their training records on copyright grounds.
The story behind this case dates back to 2018, when California State Senator Steven Bradford introduced legislation that recognized a key ingredient to police accountability is allowing the public to scrutinize what kind of training officers receive when it comes to practices such as police stops, use-of-force, and surveillance. SB 978 requires all local law enforcement agencies and POST to publish their policy manuals and training materials on their websites, at least to the extent that those records would be releasable under the California Public Records Act. With EFF's support, the California legislature passed the bill and it went into effect in January 2020.
However, when EFF went to the POST's OpenData hub to review training materials for issues such as police shootings, automated license plate readers, and face recognition, we found that the documents were completely redacted. Even the training on California public records requests was ironically redacted. All that was left was a single line: “The course presenter has claimed copyright for the expanded course outline.” While courses developed by California agencies are by default in the public domain, third-party private entities can also seek POST certification for their training materials.
These redactions were unacceptable. When a trainer asks for the imprimatur of the state government for their presentations, they have to submit these materials for approval—and at that point, the document becomes a government record and should be open to public inspection. Otherwise, the public can’t assess the content of the training police receive or ensure that POST is doing proper quality control.
After EFF sent a letter demanding the documents be published in full, POST re-reviewed the face recognition and license plate reader documents and concluded there was no statutory basis for withholding the records. However, POST refused to publish 19 training outlines created by CPOA, still citing copyright as an excuse.
Again, this was outrageous. As the self-proclaimed voice of law enforcement officers statewide, CPOA represents the interests of its members first and foremost, not the California public. So, when its instructors deliver a training about use of force or police shootings, one would expect the guidance to be skewed toward protecting the officer from litigation, termination, and prosecution, rather than subjecting them to accountability. We say “expect” because without being able to review the materials, the public can’t know for sure.
So, in May 2021, EFF sued POST. And although the case dragged on for two years, we won.
Not only did POST agree to release the materials, the commission signed a settlement stating that from now on it will no longer redact course outlines to conceal copyrighted material, nor will it retain any redactions applied by the trainers to protect copyrighted materials.
The newly released records are available on DocumentCloud (links below) and through POST's OpenData site.
- Advanced Field Training Course (Course Number 00190)
- Canine Program Management (Course Number 24070)
- Crisis Intervention Awareness (Course Number 20763)
- Crisis Intervention Training (Course Number 20801)
- Critical Incident Response (Course Number 10342)
- Internal Affairs Investigation (Course Number 32100)
- Leadership Development Course (Course Number 43156)
- Leading the Professional Employee (Course Number 43142)
- Legal Implications of the Use of Force (Course Number 21179)
- Legal Issues for Law Enforcement (Course Number 10370)
- Legislative Update (Course Number 20010)
- Officer Involved Shooting (Course Number 10780)
- Patrol Operations Field Leadership (Course Number 41610)
- Pitchess Motion (Course Number 30640)
- POBR for Supervisors and Managers (Course Number 32102)
- Public Records Act (Course Number 10730)
- Training Conference (Course Number 28000)
- Transformational Leadership (Course Number 22530)
A lot of information in the records is outside EFF’s expertise as a digital rights and transparency organization, and so we leave analysis to experts on police practices and advocates for police reform or abolition. Unfortunately, in some cases, the outlines are so lean they raise questions about whether POST is adequately reviewing the content before certifying the courses. However, it’s worth noting that some presentations do include instruction of clear concern. For example, the training on “Legal Implications for Use of Force” coaches police officers on a variety of techniques for manipulating juries and oversight bodies, down to mannerisms and “Dressing for Success”:
EFF’s work on SB 978 also extends statewide. In April 2021, EFF partnered with Stanford Libraries’ KNOW Systemic Racism project to compile and publish links to more than 450 California law enforcement agencies’ policy manuals and training materials.
As communities observe the third anniversary of George Floyd’s killing, this win reaffirms EFF’s commitment to supporting the Black-led protest movement that rose in response to police violence. By defending access to law enforcement records—be it police trainings, fusion center agreements, search warrants, or drone videos—we can ensure that the public has the evidence it needs to expose abuses of power.
Thursday 25th May 2023 8:30 pm