Police Internal Investigation Files: Not So Public Records

How it all got started:  I was reading an article about a police officer in Newark that has several "issues."  Apparently the news media does not quite have an understanding of what is and is not "public records."  and also what may or may not be protected information.

What is Protected: For Obvious reasons - most of the information in a personnel file is protected.  This means that not just anyone can come up and get information from a personnel file, even though the police are a public entity.  They need their identity protected too, the same as any employee of any organization.  Otherwise anyone could get their social security number, etc. 

Photos of Police Officers: Police agencies normally do not release photos of their officers, unless through official press releases.  This too is for the protection of the officer as there is such a thing as undercover police work.  It is also to protect the officers from harassment. 

Internal Investigation Files:  Internal investigation files are not public records*.  The "Law enforcement privilege”  prevents the disclosure of information that would be contrary to the public interest in the effective functioning of law enforcement. *However, in some states, now internal investigation files are considered public information.

What I Think: I have feeling both ways on this:  First of all, and police agency that is following "democratic policing" principles should have open records.  I basically lean towards the opening on the investigations from a concerned citizen's point of view.  Second, as working the Human Resources side of the equation - internal investigations are basically a human resources (personnel) issue.  No one should have access to that information as long as there are no criminal implications or investigations derived.  I am not in favor of realeasing internal investigations files before the investigation is concluded.  However, once they are concluded, they should be made a part of public records.

Rules and laws are not equal in all states - so who knows what can and cannot be had.  However, if the disclosure of information that would be contrary to the public interest in the effective functioning of law enforcement clause cannot be met - then the information should be public.

4 comments:

  1. This is a tough issue. While I understand that a policeman needs to protect some of his privacy, at the same time the actions, background, etc., of police officers should be available to the public in order to protect that public.

    It may be hard on the individual, but I do not believe that police should receive the same amount of privacy as other groups.

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  2. Thanks for the input Doug - Like I said, there are 2 sides to this

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  4. You would never really know if you're under surveillance nowadays. Violence against one's privacy is really hard to detect. It really pays to be on the safe side always as far as your safety is concerned.

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