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Public records must show crime victims' names

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Public records must show crime victims’ names

  • Kentucky open records law does not permit the redaction of crime victims’ names from University of Kentucky campus police reports prior to public release, the Kentucky Attorney General ruled Oct. 15.

Oct. 28, 2004 — The University of Kentucky cannot routinely black out crime victims’ names on campus police reports in the interest of victim privacy, the Kentucky attorney general held Oct. 15, affirming long-standing interpretations of state open records law.

The ruling came after the names of crime victims were blacked out — at the victims’ request — on two of eight reports campus police released to The Kentucky Kernel , the university’s student newspaper.

The Kernel, which publishes weekly reports on campus crime, challenged the redactions by filing a complaint with Kentucky Attorney General Greg Stumbo. In its complaint, the Kernel argued that the crime victims’ desire for privacy did not give the government carte blanche to suppress their names.

The Police Department claimed that the privacy exemption in Kentucky’s open records law justified the redactions. “There is no public interest served by the distribution of such personal and private [crime victim] information,” the department said in a letter to the attorney general.

The attorney general disagreed.

“Contrary to the views expressed by the [University of Kentucky Police Department], the disputed incident reports are matters of public interest and are public records,” the attorney general’s opinion said. In order to withhold any part of such public records pursuant to the privacy exemption, the ruling continued, the government must make a showing that a privacy interest outweighs the public interest based on “a number of relevant factors, including the seriousness of the crime, the circumstances under which it was committed, and the adverse impact on the victim of further disclosure.”

The department may not simply point to “the presence of a check mark in a box on the incident report signifying the victim’s preference for anonymity” as justification to abridge the public’s right to access records, the attorney general concluded.

The decision is consistent with prior administrative and judicial opinions that have considered whether Kentucky open records law permits the government to black out crime victims’ names from public records. In 2002, the Attorney General’s office ruled that the government may do so in the context of a sexual offense, but emphasized that agencies “may not withhold the identities of all crime victims as a matter of policy.”

(In re: The Kentucky Kernel/University of Kentucky Police Department; Media Counsel: Jon Fleischaker, Dinsmore & Shohl LLP; Frankfort, Ky.) RL

© 2004 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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