Requesting a copy of a Los Angeles police report or other public record can be a maze of rules, forms, and bureaucracy. Let us help you demystify the process. First thing to know -- the California Public Records Act (CPRA) is the law in California for accessing public records from police departments, local governments, and state agencies. Keep in mind, the state Legislature and the courts, have their own, separate access rules. If you are looking for public records from the executive branch or any other agency in the federal government, check out the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) law.
One more bit of information -- it can sometimes be costly to obtain government records, even those that are clearly required to be available for the public. Agencies are permitted to charge only for the actual costs of duplication, and must calculate the costs based on its actual costs. Although this amount will likely be similar among agencies there are some variables that may justify differences in per-page copy costs. We will explore some ways to help minimize costs.
How do I request records?
First, just try simply calling the agency and making an informal request. If the information officer can't grant your telephone request, he or she should be able to provide you with specific information for making a formal request.
Important tip: The law doesn't require you to make a written request to receive the public documents you want to inspect, however it makes life a whole lot easier. Not sure how to write such a letter? Click here for an example.
Is there some information I won't be allowed to see?
Yes, the government has to balance individual privacy rights with the public's right to know. The law says there's some information you just won't be privy to. Likely, the police department or other public agency will simply redact or exclude this from the report before handing it over to you. There are a whole slew of exceptions to the law. We couldn't possibly list all of them. (Check out Cal. Gov't Code § 6254 if you have a burning desire to learn more). Examples of info you just aren't going to get include:
Do I have to give a reason why I want these records?
You aren't required to explain why you are making a request. However, if you are asking for the address of someone who has been arrested, or the current address of the crime victim, you must state whether the request is made for a journalistic, scholarly, political, or governmental purpose, and declare that the information will not be used to sell a product or service. You probably won't get that information anyway because of privacy rights.
How long is all this going to take? Government agencies are notoriously s-l-o-w.
Public agencies aren't the most expedient, but in this case they must be. It's the law. Section 6253(c) of the CPRA says they must respond to your records request within 10 days of receipt. We can anticipate your next question. Is that calendar days or business days? Calendar days, so weekends should be counted in your calculation as to when you should have received a response.
About that 10-day rule...
At FindLaw, we also double-dip as mind readers because we know your next question. Does the 10-day response period begin the day the police department receives it or after? The day after. For example, if the LAPD received a public records request on Monday, January 6, the ten-day period would begin on Tuesday, January 7.
Does that mean I'll get copies of my records within 10-days?
Probably not. The law only requires the police department to respond. If you request copies, the agency must decide within that time period whether or not you are entitled to copies. If the agency grants your request, they must provide you with copies "promptly." The time that process takes often depends on the size and nature of the request. Making an "unusual request" will only delay their response time -- they'll get a 14-day extension. An unusual circumstances might include:
What if I just want to look at the records?
That's a lot easier. Agencies are required to provide you prompt access to records. Once you make your request to inspect records, you should get immediate access to those records (assuming you have a right to view them) during the hours set by the agency for inspection of records.
If you are a defendant, witness, or need a police report for your personal injury case, you should contact the specific law enforcement agency to make the request. Each police department has their own internal procedure for requesting records. In Los Angeles County, you will likely contact the Los Angeles Police Department or the Los Angeles County Sheriff. Common records requests include:
Tips to Expedite the Process
View the records at the agency's office before requesting copies. It will probably be quicker, and might give you the opportunity to narrow down the list of documents you want copies of, which also reduces your copying expenses. Also, in your request, ask for an estimate of all printing costs.
Where can I go for more help?
There are several agencies dedicated to preserving the notion of government transparency. Here are a few resources that may be able to assist you:
You can also contact a Los Angeles attorney to discuss your rights, especially if you records request has been denied.
Contact a qualified attorney.