Editor's Note

The FOI Advocate is a compendium of ideas, edited story excerpts and other materials from a variety of Web sites, as well as original concepts and analysis. When the information comes directly from another source, it will be attributed and a link will be provided whenever possible. The blog relies on the accuracy and integrity of the original sources cited. We will correct errors and inaccuracies when we become aware of them.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

In Wisconsin, Partly Cloudy....

The Wisconsin coalition does an excellent job of frequently weighing in through a series of FOI-related submissions to editorial pages across the state. Here is the latest installment, from Margaret Davidson and Ann Frisch:

"In Wisconsin, the law gives the public maximum access to government records and decision-making meetings. People have the right to know, for example, whom local police have arrested and why.

However, when students in two classes at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh requested daily arrest lists for area city and county police departments, they didn't get the requested information.

We first trained our students in journalism and human services courses to know their rights under the Wisconsin Open Records Law. The students then filed requests for the police records.

Although no law specifically requires government officials to provide a daily arrest list, officials are expected to promptly provide the names, birth dates, time of the arrest, name of arresting officer, and the reason for the arrest. This expectation stems from a pivotal court case, Newspapers Inc. v. Breier, in which a judge concluded:

"We hold as a matter of law that the harm to the public interest in the form of possible damage to the arrested persons' reputations does not outweigh the public interest in allowing inspection of the police records which show the charges upon which arrests were made. The police blotter shall be open for inspection by the public at any time when the custodian's office is open for business and the 'arrest list' or the police 'blotter' is not actually being used for the making of entries therein."

But today, this ruling seems forgotten. In our study, no police department technically met our requirement for strict interpretation of the law. To comply with the expectations of law, police officials could have provided a copy of the computer logs with information on arrests included, or they could have provided a copy of all incident reports that resulted in arrests...."

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