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California law enforcement agency refuses to publish police training manuals, citing copyright

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The training materials for California local law enforcement agencies are not available to the public due to copyright claims.

In California, a law that came into effect on January 1, 2020, SB 978, requires local law enforcement agencies and the Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) to “conspicuously post on their Internet Web sites all current standards, policies, practices, operating procedures, and education and training materials that would otherwise be available to the public if a request was made pursuant to the California Public Records Act.”

But try downloading training materials on the use of force or face recognition technology or automated license plate readers (ALPRs) from POST’s website, and all you get is a document with the following statement:

The course presenter has claimed copyright for the expanded course outline.

SB 978 would suggest that is unlawful, the EFF says. Besides the information on training materials is available to the public through the California Public Records Act (CPRA). Vigilant Solutions, the company that provides POST with the training material on facial recognition and ALPR is likely responsible for the copyright claim. The company is known for putting non-publication clauses in the contracts it signs with law enforcement agencies to protect its intellectual property.

However, while there’s a copyright exemption under CPRA, it is a narrow one that only covers computer software developed by a government agency. Training materials are not computer software.

Copyright claims or not, POST has never made the full training manuals available on its website, only the outlines.

SB 978, sponsored by Senator Steven Bradford and supported by several civil rights advocacy groups, was created to increase transparency and accountability. Hiding the training materials goes not only goes against the law and what it stands for but also provides private companies such as Vigilant Solution with control of law enforcement practices without accountability or supervision.

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