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Attorney general requires police to release crime reports

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  1. Freedom of Information

    NMU         KENTUCKY         Freedom of Information         Mar 15, 2001    

Attorney general requires police to release crime reports

  • An assistant police chief ran afoul of the state open records law when he questioned a citizen’s motive for viewing records.

A police official violated Kentucky’s open records law when he refused to comply with a citizen’s request for crime reports, according to a Jan.12 opinion issued by state Attorney General Albert B. Chandler III.

In the opinion, which is legally binding in open records cases, Chandler found that the Covington Police Department disregarded the open records statute when the assistant police chief Lt. Col. Thomas Schonecker denied Chris Henson’s requests for criminal offense reports. Schonecker claimed the requests were not only invalid but also imposed an unreasonable burden on the department.

Last November, Henson filed numerous requests for the reports, claiming he was conducting research on criminal activity. After initially complying, Schonecker contacted Henson and asked him to explain why he wanted the reports. Dissatisfied with Henson’s reasons, the police department denied other Henson requests.

“Due to your excessive police report requests, and your invalid reasons as to why you have been requesting these reports, we will no longer be providing you with this service,” Schonecker wrote to Henson. Schonecker further instructed Henson to inspect offense records at the station, rather than request copies through the mail. Henson appealed to the attorney general’s office, which settles open records disputes.

In reviewing Henson’s appeal, the attorney general referred to four points of the open records law. First, Chandler said the Covington Police Department violated the open records law because it “does not authorize public agencies to inquire into a requester’s motives in seeking access to public records, or to consider those motives in determining whether the records should be released.” Second, the opinion stated the delay by the assistant police chief offended the provisions of the statute. The law requires public agencies to issue a response within three days, with a legally supportable reason for denial. The opinion stated that the vague language of the assistant police chief’s letter, along with its late delivery, was inadequate. Third, the opinion stated the department failed to prove Henson made a burdensome request because it did not disrupt the essential functions of the department. Finally, Chandler said the department’s instruction to inspect the records at the police station did not violate the law. However, he urged the department to reevaluate its policy and instructed the police to provide Henson with copies of the reports.

(In re: Chris Henson/Covington Police Department) ML

© 2001 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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