Missouri House weighs closing some police records

Wednesday, January 28, 2009 | 6:35 p.m. CST

JEFFERSON CITY — Some lawmakers are proposing to close portions of law enforcement internal affairs files dealing with violations of department procedures.

The Missouri Supreme Court has held that complaints accusing police officers of criminal violations currently are open records, as are any related internal investigations.

A House bill would let police departments close files in which an officer is found to have violated departmental policy but committed no criminal act, or when no violation is found. The proposal, by Rep. Scott Lipke, R-Jackson, specifies that a file showing that an officer committed a crime would remain open.

Proponents told a House committee on Wednesday that the legislation would protect wrongly accused police officers. Lipke used the analogy of someone leveling an accusation at an elected county sheriff for political purposes.

"I think (current law) can be abused, and I think we should look at it," Lipke said, adding that he hopes to pass something that isn't too controversial. "It's good to have a dialogue about that and see if there's something that can protect those that are truly innocent."

Critics countered that closing some internal affairs records could protect bad police officers from public scrutiny.

"The changes could, in some situations, shield bad cops," John Coffman, a lobbyist for the American Civil Liberties Union, told the committee.

Lipke said he sees both sides of the issue, acknowledging that departments could be tempted to keep embarrassing matters private. For example, he said, a police department might classify an officer's violation of its excessive-force policy as "procedural" so that the file could be closed.

An October report by The Kansas City Star analyzed three years' worth of Kansas City Police Department internal affairs files — 50 in all, provided by the department.

The Star reported that 4 percent of cases referred to the department's internal affairs division during the three years resulted in judgment against the officer. Law enforcement experts say the national average is about 10 percent.

Sheldon Lineback, director of the Missouri Police Chiefs' Association, testified that the current process opens up many minor offenses, including uniform violations, that could be used for character attack. He also said allowing the public to view ongoing investigative files could chill potential witnesses.

"There's a lot of facts and a lot of investigations that need to be done before it gets released," Lineback said.

He said his association would be willing to compromise on something such as releasing a summary of the investigation.

Rep. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, said the debate reminded her of last year's controversy at the St. Louis Police Department where officers used impounded cars for personal business. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch uncovered the scandal, but Nasheed said the department might have concealed it under the proposed records change.

"It really does an injustice to open records," she said.

The records provision is part of a larger crime bill that increases penalties for some drug offenses, gives more rights to victims and creates the crime of securities fraud against the elderly.


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Charles Dudley Jr January 28, 2009 | 6:49 p.m.

Citizens have the rights to full disclosure and transparency especially when it comes to law enforcement violations or reports of such.

(Report Comment)
Ricky Gurley January 28, 2009 | 7:44 p.m.

Charles Dudley Jr January 28, 2009 | 6:49 p.m.

Citizens have the rights to full disclosure and transparency especially when it comes to law enforcement violations or reports of such.

Nope! Nope they don't! Citizens have a right to what is properly called Public Information, or what is referred to as a "matter of public record"! There is MUCH information that the public is NOT privy to! Information on minors that are victims of crimes and details of those investigations (this could fit here), sensitive information gathered in an ongoing Law Enforcement Investigation (this could fit here), certain financial information (GLB Violation), certain medical information (HIPAA violation), certain Employment Information (this fits here), certain National Security Details (this could fit here), and more..

Just because these records might be "off limits" to the public, does not mean that they can not be subpoenaed; if they are needed in court..


(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr January 29, 2009 | 2:52 a.m.

That is your opinion but other citizens think different. That is what is nice about this country as a whole people can have different opinions and have them heard in public so others know that there are others who feel the same way.

So why not have full transparency unless you have some deep dark secrets in your law enforcement closet you want to hide.

Everybody has skeletons including all law enforcement agencies as they are human too.

Full disclosure to the public at large also shows a over all willingness to cooperate and to be more inclusive that to be exclusive by nature.

(Report Comment)
Ricky Gurley January 29, 2009 | 9:13 a.m.

Society is not always right, Chuck. The majority of the time, it is. But not always. The transparency you are mentioning can be abused and cause more harm to to the trust between the citizenry and the Police than good.

Despite the fact that they do serve the public, the Police ARE entitled to a certain amount of privacy too.

It is one thing if the Police do something than can damage the publics trust,, or abuse their authority; this is where we need to know. But, we don't have to know every internal problem the Police Department has regarding what would amount to no more than employment issues.


(Report Comment)
Charles Dudley Jr January 29, 2009 | 10:08 a.m.

In order for there to be any real trust between all law enforcement communities and the public at large there must be full disclosure of any and all incidents that involve any law enforcement officers that are accused of in incident or any complaints of any and all wrong doing.

It is only right. You will not change my mind ever.

I grew up with,around and at the hands of far too many crooked law enforcement officers who not only stole private properties but got away with more crime than the criminals they supposedly were going after.

Full disclosure to any and all law abiding citizens is only right unless that law enforcement officer has something to hide that is found to be non acceptable in the public eye then they should be prosecuted for breaking that public trust.

(Report Comment)
Ricky Gurley January 29, 2009 | 10:26 a.m.

Full disclosure does not mean Public Disclosure, Chuck. You are confusing "Full Disclosure" for Public Information.

Full Disclosure is achieved if the records can be subpoenaed in court.

Full Disclosure is also a little different than an Open Records Policy. Which can do more harm than good. Are you sure you want to know all of the details about that little 6 year old girl that was molested to include her full name, just because her statement was not taken by a Detective under Police Department Policy and Guidelines, AND want everyone else to find this out too (including the perverts in society); all because you want to open every record at the Police Department, Chuck?


(Report Comment)

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