Q&A: Problem getting police reports

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From the Palladium-Item (Richmond):

Q: We haven’t been able to get daily incident reports from the Richmond Police Department for about a week. At first, we were told the department’s entire system was down for a database change.

Once that work was done, the computer at the police department that we use each day to access records still wasn’t working. When our reporter asked about the situation, he was told it was going to be another three to four weeks before that computer would be up and running again for our use.

That prompted our reporter to send a note to the police chief asking him what we can do in the meantime to get information. Here’s what the chief wrote in return:

“I am working on at least a temporary solution to get you some daily updates on our reports. I have set your email up to receive a daily log of activity by category. It is pretty basic but it will at least let you know if there is something greater than a cat in the tree request for help.”

Looking at the information that’s being provided to us, it’s not all that helpful and it doesn’t appear to me to comply with Indiana law.

How should we proceed from here?

A: You’re correct that the police department is required to make the daily log or record information available on a daily basis for inspection or copying.

Does the temporary solution give you all the elements required by Indiana Code 5-14-3-5(c)? If not, then you should talk to the chief about how to get the missing data. It appears the chief recognizes a responsibility and is making an effort to comply, which is good. I think you are correct that if you settle for less than what is required by law, then that will become the norm.

While it works out its computer bugs, the department could make copies of incident reports (black out items it wants to claim under the investigatory records exception) and give you the redacted version that contains all the elements necessary under the Access to Public Records Act.

It may mean more work for someone in the police department, but that might encourage them to get bugs worked out of the computer system faster.

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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