February 4th, 2009
Georgia paper gets police to post daily incident reports online
By David Cuillier
The Savannah Morning News brought a little sunshine to Georgia after persuading the Savannah-Chatham County police to post a daily list of incident reports online. The paper also got a little help from the state attorney general, who said the police violated the state’s public records law by keping daily incident reports secret.
It’s a story that has played out throughout the country. For years, police provided incident reports on a clipboard at the front desk, which reporters could look through to identify newsworthy crimes. But in December the police stopped providing the reports when it went to a paperless, electronic system. There was no way for journalists to see reports unless they asked for individual reports.
That is unacceptable. Good for the paper by raising a stink over it. As a result, police will work on getting the daily online postings rolling by June. The agency will start with a basic list of just the crime, date and neighborhood. But eventually a synopsis for each incident will be provided. Then, journalists (and citizens, of course), can ask for more detailed information on specific incidents. That seems like a workable system that saves paper and protects transparency!