The following questions came from the South Bend Tribune:
Q: I’m going to be reporting on the expanded police powers of school resource officers. I’m hearing that students as young as fourth grade are being given misdemeanor citations for things as benign as using profanity. This has real-life implications in terms of fees and creating a criminal record.
Are the citations given to students a public record? Should we be able to get copies of those from the police department that employs the school resource officers?
A: If school resource officers have been given arrest powers, then they fall under the definition of a law enforcement agency. Therefore the same requirements for releasing information should apply to them as they do for a city police or sheriff’s department.
I would argue that the citations are public records accessible to the public for inspection and copying because we don’t allow the police in Indiana to operate in secret.
Who processes the citations can impact the availability of records. If the juvenile court is in charge, then we’ll have to look at the statute that gives the judge discretion as to openness of cases where the juvenile is not being accused of an act that would be a felony if committed by an adult.
In general, court records are open for inspection and copying. If a juvenile gets a speeding ticket, it isn’t handled any differently than an adult ticket.
Where it becomes different is if the prosecutor has filed a petition alleging juvenile delinquency. Then the judge has discretion to close proceedings unless the allegation was for an act that would be a felony if committed by an adult.
I’d approach the court with a request to inspect or copy the records of citations issued by the school resource officer during a specific time frame. Let’s see what the response is. If it’s a denial, ask for the statutory basis for the denial so you can understand why it would be kept secret. See if the court can produce one.
Contact Steve Key, HSPA executive director and general counsel, with media law questions at firstname.lastname@example.org or (317) 624-4427.