The Progress has a confession to make. We try to dupe ourselves with a concoction of dementia and denial and believe our poignant articles are the main focus of students on campus who read the paper. But really, who are we kidding?
The confession is simple: Police Beat is the most popular segment in the newspaper on a weekly basis.
Egos may be bruised because of this announcement, but it is true.
However, something else is being bruised as a result of our compiling the police logs: Kentucky state law.
Every week, a reporter walks to the police station and requests police reports from Eastern police for that particular week.
We then narrow down the records and compile them into the package we call Police Beat.
Pretty simple, right?
It should be. The purpose of the Police Beat is to keep students informed about criminal activity on campus, while also exercising the right to present open records to the public.
However, it’s hardly been an easy job to get accurate depictions of the reports into our pages.
Several semesters ago, the communication between the university and the Progress reached a tense climax. Interviews were hard to secure and police reports were hard to get without rows of black marks, also known as redactions, drowning the police reports in ink. These redactions simply cover up text on the document, effectively withholding the information underneath.
But, with some effort, communication improved and the Progress reached a new relationship with the university-a much better one. Presenting matters of open record to the public became the easy job it should have been from the beginning.
However, in certain aspects, we find ourselves slinking back toward the sad abyss of redactions and mistrust between the media and the university.
Shortly after the hazing incident broke on campus this semester, police reports started hemorrhaging a certain shade of black again. We had dealt with redacted material before, but the new changes were inconsistent, and a violation of state law from our standpoint.
So we pursued an open records request under the Freedom of Information Act, which allows both newspapers and citizens the right to formally request documentation that is open to the public-information such as state-funded organization budgets, financial reports for public companies and police reports.
University Counsel, legal representatives for Eastern, responded to our request and honored the request by giving us documents representing the time periods we asked, which were the police reports from 6 p.m. on Friday, April 11, to 8 a.m. on Tuesday, April 15.
However, when we got the documents, we realized the police were withholding certain reports from the ones we pick up every week.
And we also found more redactions.
We contacted University Counsel and asked them why they redacted the information, which included full addresses, ages and phone numbers.
University Counsel cited Kentucky Revised Statute 61.878 as their reasoning for withholding this information.
University Counsel claimed that the redactions were “information of a personal nature where the public disclosure thereof would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”
We believe that some information is clearly private, such as credit card account numbers or social security numbers, but we feel addresses, ages and even phone numbers do not violate this statute. Quite frankly, the statute does not list any of those as examples, but the university has chosen to use this as a blanket statement to keep this information secret.
We think they couldn’t be more wrong.
But the Progress did not blindly assume this. We contacted a Kentucky Press Association lawyer who specializes in media law. He was utterly dumbfounded by our story and suggested we contact the Attorney General for an official ruling. While we have not heard back from the Attorney General as of press time, we feel withholding such information is a clear violation of open records law – the records should be given to us as free of redactions as possible.
The Progress uses ages and addresses as identifiers. There have been countless examples of newspapers printing the name of a person who was involved in some type of crime without such identifiers. But we find this to be reckless reporting because doing so potentially causes problems for some poor soul who happens to share the same name.
By using these identifiers, we save those people unnecessary trouble and get our facts correct in a thorough manner.
And we feel this thoroughness will save the police department and the university headache, as well. If they give us the information, they won’t have to worry about some angry student, burdened with blame over some crime he or she did not commit, contacting them.
We are not arrogant, or happy, about having to file a formal complaint. Nor do we use this space to mindlessly bash the university. University Counsel has been very helpful in recent weeks by giving us access to various Eastern budgets without redactions.
However, we hope this action gets the free exchange of information flowing again.