SDPD Chief Going Against State Public Record Law?

In SDPD memo Chief Zimmerman suggests officers delete their text messages

Documents obtained by NBC 7 Investigates show the San Diego Police Department Chief, Shelley Zimmerman, suggesting officers delete their text messages "every day."

In California, the California Public Records Act (CPRA) allows the public access to government records, including text messages. According to the law, documents owned or used by a government entity have to be retained and made available to the public, if requested.

The directive from Zimmerman was made during an SDPD meeting in July 2016. According to notes, NBC 7 Investigates obtained from the meeting Zimmerman said, "reminder that CPRA's come in for emails-think about what you are emailing, consider deleting text messages every day."

Click here to read all of the notes.

San Diego attorney Guylyn Cummins said paper and electronic communication within government organizations must be archived, not deleted.

“With respect to actually deleting texts or tweets or e-mails when they deal with, you know, public business, I think that would violate the California Public Records Act," she said.

Last week, NBC 7 Investigates asked the Chief for an on-camera interview about her July statement but the agency declined the request.

Instead, Lt. Scott Wahl, a department spokesperson sent an email and said, Chief Zimmerman often tells her staff not to "put sensitive law-enforcement information in emails that are open to public disclosure" and to "routinely remove texts that are not mission-essential, as they slow down communication."

Wahl said an example of a non-essential text would be a message to a co-worker about a lunch order.

Click here to read his complete statement.

“Well, it’s kind of troubling because what’s non-essential right," Cummins asked. "If it relates to public business, it should be kept. Period."

Cummins said personal matters discussed using government-issued accounts and devices can be deleted. But, agencies should make their usage policies clear.

“I think there should be policies that every governmental entity has in place where they basically say, you know, use your official device when you conduct public business and retain those records, don't use it for your own private use.”

Right now, the California Supreme Court is deciding if emails sent by public officials and employees through private devices and accounts, that are related to public business are subject to disclosure under the California Public Records Act. The Court's decision is pending.

To read more about the California Public Records Act and what information you have a right to, click here.

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