Tuesday, November 2, 2010

City in a snow globe

Follow up on my last post: my professor, my editor and everyone I've talked to agrees with me in that Washington, N.C. is blatantly violating state public records law.

In recieving my first police report, there were several items taken out, with no explanation except that they were "Deleted in compliance with N.C. G.S. 1.4 (j)"

Well, upon looking up that law, this is my explanation:
"When information that is not a public record under the provisions of this section is deleted from a document, tape recording, or other record, the law enforcement agency shall make clear that a deletion has been made. Nothing in this subsection shall authorize the destruction of the original record."

So it's fine to delete certain things as long as it's made clear that a deletion has been made.

but, let's look at the provisions of this section:
"(1) The time, date, location, and nature of a violation or apparent violation of the law reported to a public law enforcement agency."

The police report withheld the nature of the crime. The department deleted the codes that explain what the "d" means on a status report, but as someone who has a fair amount of experience with police reports, I know personally that it means damaged. So not only is this deletion illegal, it's ineffective.

And, they only gave me one of two pages of the incident report, and it was not made clear

So while these reports may be possible for journalists to understand, they appear to be a different story for the general public. This is not okay. Public records law was not made for journalists. It was made for the public.

Also, they don't charge the press for their $5 police reports. But again — this is still a violation of the law. The law was not made for journalists.

I'll look forward to seeing how this ends up. I tried contacting Washington's paper today, to see if they were facing the same problems. Unfortunately the one man everyone told me I needed to talk to was out at the polls.

But what the managing editor told me is that while he has not been around that long, he has not heard of any problems they've had with the police department.

And I guess I could see how that could happen.

Journalists will press for information.

If the journalists get preferential treatment, then maybe they wouldn't pursue the rest of the laws for the non-journalists.

Though this class started out about just creating a WDN product, I'm excited that it could become much more than that.

Happy election day everybody!

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