Change to report policy yields lack of transparency

Change to report policy yields lack of transparency

The Penn Staff

10/14/2016

Readers of The Penn may have noticed that there has been a significant lack of items being offered in the police blotter section. We would like to tell you that there have been no campus offenses to report, but that would be disingenuous.

The actual reason that you have not been informed of IUP Police activity is because the IUP Police have discontinued sharing information with local media, including The Indiana Gazette and The Penn.

In search of answers as to why information sharing had been discontinued, a member of The Penn editorial staff visited the university police office. According to an IUP police officer, the policy of making “press-ready” reports available to the media had been discontinued.

Now, the police would only share the minimum required by the Clery Act, which is a daily log of crimes that includes the nature of the crime, date and time it occurred, general location of the crime and the disposition of the complaint if known. The name of persons involved, he said, are not required, therefore would not be released.

Also discussed at length was the change of policy IUP had made regarding the release of students’ names. He told our editorial staff member that because of amendments made in June to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), identifying students who have been arrested would violate FERPA. He also listed the Clery Act, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the Violence Against Women Act as reasons for not being allowed to disclose the information.

But if students’ names couldn’t be released when crimes were committed, why could the borough and state police release them? He explained that because IUP Police is under the jurisdiction of the university, it had to follow laws that applied to the university, including FERPA.

The visit with campus police presented more questions than had been answered, since we knew police – including university police – are obligated by law to provide the public with access to names and other police blotter information of anyone facing criminal charges, student or not. Was this change in policy against the law?

Luckily, The Penn is a member of the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, which is a wonderful repository of media law information. According to Melissa Melewsky, Media Law Counsel, the Clery Act, HIPPA and FERPA should not prevent release of crime information that occurs on campus and that news outlets such as The Penn are obligated to report. In fact, FERPA expressly excludes law enforcement records from the definition of ‘education records’ protected by FERPA. In addition, PA’s Right to Know Law (RTKL) applies to all PASSHE schools, and as such, the campus police department is required to provide access to public records in its possession.

While RTKL exempts many law enforcement records from public access, it expressly requires public access to police blotters, which are defined as a ‘chronological listing of arrests, usually documented contemporaneous with the incident, which may include, but is not limited to, the name and address of the individual charged and the alleged offenses.’ RTKL requires law enforcement agencies to provide access to blotter information, and this applies to campus police.

The accurate and full reporting of the news is a responsibility that is taken very seriously by The Penn. It is our obligation to share with our readers the police blotter of crimes happening in our area.

As the press, we understand the need for transparency in the goings on of the government and police, and will work to make sure transparency occurs.

Though there has been a delay in obtaining the police reports for crimes committed on campus grounds, The Penn will report these in the police blotter section of our paper as soon as possible.

Categories: Opinion

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