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Bill seeks ban of access to police officer names

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    News Media Update         DELAWARE         Freedom of Information    

Bill seeks ban of access to police officer names

  • Delaware legislators and the state attorney general, despite media objection, are seeking to fast-track a bill to override a December state Supreme Court decision that names of police officers are public.

Jan. 27, 2004 — Delaware lawmakers, following the wishes of the state attorney general, are aggressively pushing for a measure that would reverse a recent state Supreme Court ruling insofar as it would make public police officers’ names. The (Wilmington) News Journal sought the names as part of his lengthy legislation for criminal justice records..

On Jan. 22 the Delaware House unanimously passed a bill adding names and identification numbers of parole, probation, and police officers to the state’s database of criminal history records. The bill specifically prohibits access to that information under the state Freedom of Information Act

The bill is intended to overturn the Delaware Supreme Court’s Dec. 30 decision that allowed disclosure of certain kinds of information in the database, including information that would identify police officers.

Delaware attorney general M. Jane Brady on Jan. 15 pressed for introduction of the legislation. It is now in the state Senate Judiciary Committee chaired by the co-sponsor of the bill, Sen. James Vaughn (D-Clayton).

Attorneys for The News Journal on Jan. 21asked a Superior Court judge to force state officials to release the information the Supreme Court ruled open.

The News Journal has litigated for six years for access to computerized crime records hoping to analyze ten years of misdemeanor and felony case histories.

The attorney general’s office fought to block disclosure of the identities of arresting officers, when it appeared that the newspaper would prevail, contending that the release could jeopardize officers’ safety. However, names of arresting officers are public records and can already be obtained from public sources, like courthouses.

According to a Jan. 23 AP article, News Journal attorney Alyssa Schwartz said that when the newspaper’s lawyers asked for the information the week of Jan. 12, the Delaware Criminal Justice Information System denied the request without any explanation.

Schwartz told the Reporters Committee that information on judges and public defenders must be public and that she saw no reason to protect the identities of a whole category of public officers. The newspaper needs the records if it is to conduct the comprehensive analysis of the state’s criminal justice system it has tried for many years to do, she said.

(House Bill No. 319; Gannett Co. v. Board of Managers of the Delaware Criminal Justice Information System; Media Counsel: Richard Elliott, Richards, Layton & Finger, Wilmington) AB

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