Q&A: Investigatory records in Lauren Spierer case

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Q: As part of a package about the one-year anniversary of the disappearance of IU student Lauren Spierer, I submitted a public records request to the Bloomington Police Department asking for “copies of all emails sent to and from policetips@bloomington.in.gov regarding the Lauren Spierer case and copies of all expense reports filed by BPD officers for trips pertaining to the Spierer case.”

Bloomington Police denied the request, saying they were investigatory records.

Is that is a valid response, particularly with regards to the expense reports?

A: I would agree with the Bloomington Police Department that the tips were compiled in the course of a criminal investigation and would fall under the “investigatory records” category that would allow them (not mandate them) to keep the information confidential.

I would have some heartburn over a blanket use of the “investigatory records” exception applied to the expense reports.

Technically, the expense reports were created during the investigation and thus could fall under the investigatory records category, but the definition of investigatory records in the Access to Public Records Act talks about records compiled in the course of the investigation of a crime.

Bloomington police might say I’m splitting hairs, but I believe the legislature intended for citizens to know how taxpayer dollars are spent and also intended to help police protect information to further the investigation of a crime.

I believe the expense forms should be made available, but I could see BPD redacting certain facts from the documents to prevent the investigation from being compromised.

For example, the expense form might show the cost of airfare for a detective to fly to another state to compare notes with local police that have a similar disappearance.

The cost of the flight should not be confidential, but the police could make an argument for the confidentiality of the location because public knowledge of this might tip off the criminal that police are closing the net a little tighter.

Redacted copies of the expense report would give the public the ability to see how much this investigation has cost while not potentially damaging the investigation.

Contact Steve Key, HSPA executive director and general counsel, with media law questions at skey@hspa.com or (317) 624-4427.

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