Sunday, May 23, 2010

Judge tells Hopkinsville police to release police records on threats made in city

A circuit court judge has ruled that Hopkinsville officials improperly withheld reports from the Kentucky New Era last year. The mayor told the newspaper the city might appeal the ruling because it could set a bad precedent, but if the Court of Appeals upheld the decision that would give it statewide impact.

The New Era asked Hopkinsville police in September for all reports referencing threats made in Hopkinsville during an eight-month period. "City Clerk Crissy Upton provided more than 400 reports, but withheld others, saying they either involved juveniles or were under investigation," Kevin Hoffman writes for the Hopkinsville daily. The newspaper appealed the denial, and Attorney General Jack Conway ruled all the records should be released. The city appealed, and Circuit Judge Andrew Self ruled for the newspaper, holding the city hadn't shown why one or more exemptions in the Open Records Act applied.

Self wrote that the city's response was “thoughtful based on its interpretation of applicable law,” but refusing to release some reports and redacting identifying information such as race and gender violated the law. “The records requested by the New Era were reasonable, appropriate and consistent with its function as a member of the news media to inform the public of the operations of local government,” Self wrote. “If there is a dispute about which records should be released or withheld, it is incumbent upon the public agency to prove in circuit court why a particular exemption applies. To allow otherwise would be akin to the proverbial fox guarding the hen house.”

New Era Editor Jennifer P. Brown said the law makes public “reports completed by police agencies . . . including arrest citations and the initial incident report that is filed when a citizen calls police to report a crime. . . . If a police agency is allowed to withhold the very proof of its work in the way the city of Hopkinsville wants to withhold these records, it becomes impossible for news agencies and private citizens to understand the types of crimes committed in a community and how police are responding to those crimes. Collectively, police reports offer valuable information about trends and patterns in crime. That information should be available to the public.” (Read more)

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