Voice of OC — the driving force in Orange County to make public police misconduct records — is one of the California news agencies honored for public service by the Northern California Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

The California consortium of news organizations which included the Los Angeles Times, Orange County Register and Southern California Public Radio was honored for reporting on SB 1421 files — records concerning police use of force, sexual assault on members of the public and incidents of lying while on duty.

The honor is for “news organizations that try to improve conditions for the benefit of society.”

“We are honored to be part of this historic effort amongst newsrooms to stand up for the public’s right to know in California and look forward to staying engaged in the coalition moving forward,” said Voice of OC Publisher and Editor in Chief, Norberto Santana, Jr. 

When the statewide SB 1421 measure went into effect, the Deputy Sheriff’s Union in Orange County moved to block access to the public records. Voice of OC jumped on the case.

Overnight, Voice led a team of first amendment lawyers, the Los Angeles Times and Southern California Public Radio to stop the union from sealing past records.

Judge Scott noted the bedrock importance of protecting our right to know, especially over an agency like law enforcement, which carries so much power over people’s lives.

“Openness in government is essential to the functioning of a democracy,” wrote Scott in his ruling, quoting landmark court decisions. “Implicit in the democratic process is the notion that government should be accountable for its actions. In order to verify accountability, individuals must have access to government files. Such access permits checks against the arbitrary exercise of official power and secrecy in the political process.”

If Voice had not acted quickly, Orange County could have been the only place in the state where the public could not access the police misconduct records.

And Voice of OC did not stop there.

Our news reporters have documented multiple stories of police misconduct, police oversight and use-of-force while maintaining pressure on Orange County to actually release the records:

  • Orange County Sheriff Don Barnes was moving much slower than many other law enforcement agencies across California to release police misconduct records, made available to the general public under a state law, SB 1421, that went into effect on Jan 1. (STORY)
  • Orange County’s Deputy Sheriff’s union paid out nearly $50,000 in attorney fees to a Voice of OC-led media coalition that successfully challenged the deputies’ bid earlier this year to seal misconduct records made available for public review by recent state legislation. (STORY)
  • Orange County now joins Los Angeles and Contra Costa counties as places where a resident can hold their police agencies accountable by having the right to review select law enforcement misconduct records, thanks to a Thursday afternoon decision by OC Superior Court Judge Nathan Scott. (STORY)
  • It has cost Santa Ana roughly $24 million out of the public purse to settle legal claims and lawsuits against the police department over the last decade, according to official data obtained by Voice of OC. (STORY)
  • In the latest twist to a wide-ranging Orange County Sheriff’s Department evidence-booking scandal, sheriff’s officials testified that supervisors knowingly allowed deputies to book evidence late in violation of policy. (STORY)
  • Orange County’s police watchdog agency, which for years remained vacant and steeped in controversy, is currently a one-man shop.  (STORY)
  • In under 30 hours, San Clemente went from a quiet, wealthy coastal enclave to the epicenter of local anger, protests and confrontations in Orange County over police violence after an Orange County Sheriff’s deputy, tasked with homeless outreach, shot and killed a Black homeless man in the city. (STORY)
  • Santa Ana residents are getting a clearer picture of just what kind of oversight and accountability system could be coming down on their police officers, with a fresh batch of newly-elected officials in place to make an eventual — if still far out — final decision. (STORY)
  • Fullerton residents may soon find out exactly how former City Manager Joe Felz was given a ride home by Fullerton police officers after hitting a tree and trying to flee the scene following drinking on election night in 2016, after resident Joshua Ferguson filed a lawsuit against the city to produce police body camera footage from that night. (STORY)
  • Santa Ana’s Police Chief has raised questions about whether Police Sgt. Gerry Serrano — the man just re-elected to lead the city’s powerful police union — scored excessive cash-outs for unused time off from City Hall. (STORY)
  • A string of protests against police violence in Orange County is challenging local officials to rethink police accountability and law enforcement’s role in politics and systemic public safety issues, right on time for budget season — where cities spend more on cops over other areas like youth programs, parks and libraries. (STORY)

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