December 2nd, 2008
Disturbing trend: closed police reports
By David Cuillier
Johnny Edwards, SPJ sunshine chair from Georgia, reports several instances of police making basic crime reports secret. This is a big problem. In an analysis of 32 state access audits, I found that about 71 percent of the time police illegally deny valid public records requests. Are you noticing the same thing? If so let me know (email@example.com). What I like is how the three reporters below wrote about the illegal denials, talking to experts. After all, police aren’t saying “no” to journalists. They are saying “no” to those thousands or millions of citizens in the community.
“Police officials with the Albany Police Department withheld portions of police reports from reporters Tuesday, reversing a longtime policy of full disclosure to police documents some say Georgia law requires them to provide. Tuesday morning, Albany police staff refused to provide narrative portions of initial incident reports to an Albany Herald and WFXL reporters who requested the reports. Narratives, generally the last page of multipage incident reports, explain the circumstances of the event and provides a context for police action.”
“After years of releasing crime reports in their entirety, Charleston police recently began blacking out names, addresses, phone numbers and other important details from the documents, claiming the information falls within privacy provisions of the state Freedom of Information Act.”
Hilton Head, S.C.:
“Crime reports were not accessible Thursday or Friday at the Hilton Head Island substation and will not be available today or Sunday, according to a Sheriff’s Office policy put in place Nov. 3. The new policy states that ‘incident reports will be available for review during normal office hours’ — 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday to Friday … The Sheriff’s Office’s new policy violates South Carolina’s Freedom of Information Act, according to Jay Bender, a lawyer for the South Carolina Press Association … Bender said Friday that government agencies must provide access to public records when a citizen appears in person and requests them during the agency’s operating hours.”