The Mountain View Police Department's creation of a wall denying access to traffic-accident information to the public and the press is more than puzzling. It's also legally misguided, despite department officials' claim that general secrecy about the incidents is required by law. It is not.
It has been only recently that the Voice has encountered resistance from the city's police department while trying to report news about traffic collisions occurring on local streets. Incidents involving pedestrians and bicyclists are occurring at a troubling rate, and the need for public awareness of this health and safety matter should be obvious.
Although in the past, Mountain View police officials provided accident details – such as the number of people involved and extent of injuries of anyone hurt, the direction the vehicles and/or pedestrians were traveling, the specific movements that led up to the collision, and the extent of any property damage – the department now provides only the date, time and location of an incident.
The department cites a section of the California Vehicle Code that spells out rules on reporting accidents to the DMV. But police officials, starting at the top with Police Chief Max Bosel, are ignoring California Government Code 6254 (f), which requires a local police agency to report factual circumstances of traffic collisions it responds to, including a general description of injuries and property damage, and information pertaining to its response.
These are details provided by many other police agencies, including the California Highway Patrol. Does the Mountain View Police Department really believe that the state CHP would break the law by providing such information?
The Voice isn't alone in its frustration over this new police department policy of withholding information that the public is legally entitled to. The city's Bike and Pedestrian Advisory Committee is being hampered in its attempt to make informed recommendations on how the city can increase safety on local streets – roadways that were the sites of six deaths last year of bicyclists, pedestrians and motorists, and have seen a steady hike in the number of pedestrian- and bike-related collisions since 2012.
Bruce England of the advisory committee told the Voice that the committee is also denied pertinent information about traffic accidents, despite its city-directed role in trying to improve roadway safety. Such information, he said, "is key to our being able to recommend or request systemic changes for improvements to help reduce the number and severity of incidents."
On an encouraging note, City Attorney Jannie Quinn said on Wednesday that she will research the legal question regarding the police department's refusal to supply most traffic accident information. We hope that the matter is resolved quickly and in the spirit of serving the public interest.