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Identities of sex crime victims not public

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Identities of sex crime victims not public

  • The Court of Appeals of Kentucky ruled that names, addresses and other identifying information of sex crime victims may be redacted from police incident reports requested under the state’s Open Records Act.

Nov. 6, 2003 — Information identifying sex crime victims in police incident reports is not public under the state’s Open Records Act, the Court of Appeals of Kentucky ruled last week. Victims’ names, addresses and other identifying information should be redacted before disclosing the reports to the public.

The lawsuit was initiated by The (Louisville) Courier-Journal, which was denied access to unredacted police reports by the Louisville Police Department. The paper had previously been allowed access to unredacted reports, but the city changed its policy in August 2002 after a complaint by an area nonprofit group, the Center for Women and Families.

Bennie Ivory, executive editor of The Courier-Journal, explained in a Feb. 26 story that it is the newspaper’s policy not to print the identities of victims of sex crimes. However, he said, such information is necessary for reporters to spot trends, such as if a particular neighborhood has been the scene of multiple crimes.

The Courier-Journal originally sought relief from the Kentucky Attorney General’s Office. Attorney general opinions interpreting the Open Records Act are binding in Kentucky.

Jon M. Fleischaker, attorney for the newspaper, argued that the city’s new policy was contrary to previous open records decisions, and any redaction for privacy should be made on a case-by-case basis.

However, Assistant Attorney General Amye L. Bensenhaver, recognizing that her opinion was a “significant departure from previous open records decisions,” found that the privacy interests of sex crime victims outweighs the public interest in monitoring police action.

Bensenhaver noted that the decision was limited to identifying victims of sex crimes in police incident reports, and that in “rare instances,” when a victim has “evidenced a waiver of privacy,” such information need not be redacted.

The Courier-Journal appealed the decision to the circuit court in Jefferson County, which ruled for the city. The newspaper then appealed to the Court of Appeals.

On Oct. 31, a split three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals upheld the attorney general’s decision, again rejecting the newspaper’s argument that redaction should be made on a case-by-case basis instead of as a matter of policy.

Judge William McAnulty dissented from the court’s opinion.

“While the goal of protecting the privacy of a victim of a sexual offense is laudable,” he wrote, “the corresponding danger of allowing government to operate secretly outweighs any possible benefit.”

Fleishacker says the paper has not yet decided if it will appeal to the Kentucky Supreme Court.

(Cape Publications v. City of Louisville; Media Counsel: Jon L. Fleischaker, Dinsmore & Shohl LLP, Louisville) GP

© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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