Dave Kurtz, editor of The Star has had a running dispute with the Auburn Police Department over redactions of the names of juveniles in accident reports. I’ve seen this crop up across the state, so let’s review the situation.
When a traffic accident occurs with an injury or damages of more than $1,000, there will be two public records created that a reporter can inspect or ask for a copy.
The first is the “daily log or record” required under the state’s Access to Public Records Act at I.C. 5-14-3-5(c). The statute requires a record within 24 hours of the call for assistance be created.
Since most accidents probably involve an infraction, the record should include the time of the call for help, what officer was dispatched and when, the time and location of the accident, name and ages of those involved, factual description of the accident and description of property and injuries.
… if the records are in an electronic format, you can ask for them to be emailed to you and there will be on copying fee… The free emailed copies of electronic records is due to legislation HSPA worked to pass in the 2018 legislative session.
Depending on the accident, a description of what happened may be sketchy until the second record – the accident report – is completed.
Do note that the daily log or record requirement does not exempt the names and ages of minors from disclosure.
The accident report may take days to complete, particularly if an accident reconstruction is ordered or the officer needs to wait for the results of a blood-alcohol test.
The accident report requirement is found at I.C. 9-26-2-1. I.C. 9-26-2-2 sets out what must be included in the report (Note: no exceptions for young people in this section.) and I.C. 9-26-2-3 clearly makes the records disclosable to the public.
Sec. 2 requires local police to forward a written report of each accident investigated under section 1 of this chapter to the state police department within twenty-four (24) hours after completing the investigation. The report must contain, if possible, the following information:
(1) The name and address of the owner and operator of each vehicle involved in the accident.
(2) The license number and description of each vehicle involved in the accident.
(3) The time and place the accident occurred.
(4) The name and address of each person injured or killed in the accident.
(5) The name and address of each witness to the accident.
The Auburn police try to justify removal of juvenile names by citing I.C. 31-39-3-4, which requires law enforcement agencies to take steps to generally keep confidential juvenile records. The error in that position is that I.C. 31-39-3-1 clearly states that chapter only involves records when police are investigating juvenile delinquency or CHINs cases. A routine traffic accident falls under neither one of those situations.
There is no justification for redaction of juveniles involved in a traffic accident from either the daily log or the accident report.
Unhappy that The Star was pushing the department for the information, the police hinted that while providing the reports to the newspaper for free as a courtesy, that courtesy could be dropped.
The police are correct on that point. State law authorizes the Auburn City Council to set a fee of not less than $5 for a copy of an accident report (I.C. 9-29-11-1), but the council must set the fee, not the mayor or police chief.
If a police department insists on the copying fee, keep in mind that the police cannot charge you to “inspect” those records. You can go to the department and look at records and take notes from them for a story without walking out with a copy. [See I.C. 5-14-3-8(b)(1).]
As to fees for daily log or record copies, the police department can charge you up to ten (10) cents a page. However, if the records are in an electronic format, you can ask for them to be emailed to you and there will be no copying fee. [See I.C. 5-14-3-8(a)(3).]
The free emailed copies of electronic records is due to legislation HSPA worked to pass in the 2018 legislative session. (Note: the specific accident report fee language does trump this general provision, so the police could still collect that $5 or more copying fee even if they can email those reports to you.)
To recap: juvenile names should not be redacted from police records concerning traffic accidents and while the police can charge you for copies of accident reports, they cannot charge you for looking at the report and taking notes from it.