Police reports not always exempt from disclosure, court rules
GEORGIA–Parts of police incident reports may be subject to disclosure under the state open records act despite two exemptions for confidential investigation materials and pending investigation files, according to a unanimous decision by the Supreme Court of Georgia in late May.
The court concluded that incident reports are exempt from disclosure only to the extent that they contain the type of material that falls within the confidential information exemption. Incident reports are not protected by the pending investigations exemption, according to the court.
The Atlanta Journal and Constitution and the Florida Times-Union had asked the Brunswick City Police Department to provide access to a number incident reports concerning a series of sexual assaults in summer 1993.
The department denied the requests, arguing that release would reveal confidential investigation material and endanger the lives of the victims. The newspapers sued in mid-September 1993 for access to the documents under the state open records act.
The Glynn County Superior Court in Brunswick ruled in early October 1993 that the reports were exempt from disclosure to the extent that they would reveal confidential sources or endanger public safety.
The Court of Appeals of Georgia in Atlanta affirmed the trial court decision in early June 1994. Both parties appealed to the state supreme court.
The city argued that the entire incident report was exempt because it was part of a pending investigation. The newspapers argued that the entire report was automatically subject to disclosure, because as an incident report it was not exempt under the pending investigation provision.
The state supreme court disagreed with both parties and affirmed the appeals court ruling. (Atlanta Journal and Constitution v. City of Brunswick; Media Counsel: Peter Canfield)