Our View: City shouldn't appeal newspaper lawsuit ruling
Last month, the New Richmond News won its open records lawsuit over the City of New Richmond in a case involving the New Richmond Police Department’s practice of redacting information from police incident reports and accident reports.
That’s why the paper’s police blotter says “a 34-year-old New Richmond man” instead of “John Doe, 34, of New Richmond.”
The city argued that because the police use DMV records to create incident reports, such information had to be redacted upon request of police records because of the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act.
St. Croix County Judge Howard Cameron’s decision said: “...such disclosure is permitted under § 2721(b) and the Wisconsin Open Records Law requires the City to respond to records requests and provide such information in the performance of official duties… .”
Viewing or requesting a public police record should be very easy, not just for members of the press, but for any person who cares enough to ask.
It required under state law for government agencies to provide public records, but it’s also a good practice to help solve cases and keep people safe.
Well-informed citizens can be excellent allies for law enforcement officials. Publicizing aspects of a crime, or even the fact that one occurred, can encourage victims to come forward and keep neighborhoods vigilant.
So far, it has taken more than a year and tens of thousands of dollars in attorney’s fees to determine what everyone already knows: police records are public records. As of this writing, the New Richmond Police Department hasn’t changed its redaction practices as the city decides whether to appeal Cameron’s ruling.
How much more time and money should the city throw away trying to uphold government secrecy?