By Steve Key
Hoosier State Press Association
Police beat reporters need to fully utilize the Access to Public Records Act to monitor law enforcement activity.
Most editors and reporters are familiar with the requirement that police agencies provide a daily log or report that lists suspected crimes, accidents or complaints, but that’s only part of Indiana Code 5-14-3-5, which sets out information that must be made available to the public.
The daily log provision is found at 5(c).
Reporters should also be familiar with 5(a) and 5(b) and routinely rely upon it in covering state or local police departments.
Paragraph (a) outlines what must be available if a person is arrested or summoned for an offense. That information should include:
• Name, age, and address of the individual.
• Charges on which the arrest or summons is based.
• Circumstances surrounding the arrest/summons, such as time and location, investigating or arresting officer (unless it’s an undercover officer) and the law enforcement agency involved in the arrest or investigation.
Newspapers may need to rely on this requirement when questions arise concerning the use of force in an arrest. “Circumstances” should include which officer(s) fired weapons in a police-action shooting.
It’s also handy to check this information to learn what prominent citizen may have received a traffic summons.
Or checking the number of traffic tickets and when in the month they occur might show a pattern indicating that there’s a quota expected of patrol officers.
I recall years ago that a state police officer told me whichever patrolman issued the fewest tickets in a month might get stuck with more desk duty the next month.
Paragraph (b) outlines what information is available to the public when someone has been jailed or moved into a detention facility. That information includes:
• Name, age and address of the person (this includes juveniles).
• Reason for the person being placed in jail or lock-up and name of the person on whose order the person is being held.
• Time and date the person arrived and time and date the person was discharged or transferred.
• Amount of person’s bail or bond, if it has been set.
Indiana doesn’t believe people should be secretly jailed, so anyone has the right to this information.
Regularly checking this information will lead to stories that might not surface on the police dispatch log that the reporter routinely examines. That’s because some crime reports don’t come in through 911.
For example, a business suspecting an employee has been skimming money from the operation will more
likely call a non-emergency number and ask for a detective.
This is also where you may discover the arrest of someone charged with a crime in another state.
Work with your sheriff, chief or marshal to make sure all the information required under IC 5-14-3-5 is available for inspection.
If you’re not routinely asking for it, law enforcement could fall into the habit of not offering it.
Then it can be an abrupt jolt for them if a reporter does request the information.
Steve Key is executive director and general counsel for the Hoosier State Press Association. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.