A six-month investigation of California police officers with criminal records, led by Berkeley Journalism’s Investigative Reporting Program (IRP) and the Bay Area News Group (BANG), was honored this month by the Northern California chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.
“California’s Criminal Cops,” which exposed hundreds of current and former police officers with rap sheets across the state, won the top award for investigative reporting (print/online large division) in SPJ NorCal’s 35th Annual Excellence in Journalism Awards, which were announced on Feb. 3.
The investigative series came out of an extraordinary collaboration of news organizations throughout California coordinated by the IRP. Reporters from more than 30 news outlets participated, including the Bay Area News Group, MediaNews Group, McClatchy, USA Today Network, Voice of San Diego, and Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting. The main story appeared on the front pages of newspapers across the state on Nov. 10, 2019, along with a unique searchable database of officers convicted of a crime in the past decade – the largest record of criminal activity among police in the state ever compiled.
The project began in early 2019 when the IRP filed a Public Records Act request and obtained a secret list of the criminal convictions of nearly 12,000 current or former law enforcement officers and people who applied to be one. Reporters pored over court records and other files and ultimately identified 630 police officers who committed crimes.
“This ground-breaking series of stories is emblematic of the IRP’s ongoing commitment to deeply reported journalism about police misconduct,” said David Barstow, the Logan Distinguished Chair in Investigative Journalism, who heads the IRP. “It also demonstrates the power of collaboration to produce great investigative journalism, and I’d especially like to thank Mike Frankel and Bert Robinson at BANG for their partnership on this project.”
More than a dozen Berkeley Journalism alums and students were involved in the project, including Robert Lewis (‘08), who was the lead reporter. Laurence Du Sault (‘20), Katey Rusch (‘20) and Ali DeFazio (’20) spent months combing records, making calls and knocking on doors. In addition to their work on the main story, Du Sault and Rusch co-authored two stories about the police department in the Central Valley town of McFarland, which had a history of hiring officers with dubious backgrounds.
Others involved in the project included: Jason Paladino (’15), Associate Dean Jeremy Rue (’07) and Andrew Beale (‘18) assisted with data; Edward Booth (‘20), Brian Perlman (‘20), Eric Murphy (‘20), Erin Stone (‘19) and Loi Ameera Almeron (‘16) conducted research; Zach Stauffer (’08) was part of the series’ visuals team; and Professor Barstow, former IRP Director John Temple, and IRP founder and Emeritus Professor Lowell Bergman provided editorial oversight.
In addition to the investigative reporting award, the IRP was also recognized for excellence in public service, along with all 40 members of the California Reporting Project, for its contributions to “Unsealed: California’s Secret Police Misconduct and Use-of-Force Files.”
The SPJ NorCal award winners will be honored at a ceremony to be held virtually at a date to be determined.
By Janice Hui
November 23, 2020
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