(Posted 8/1/2011 by Megan Rhyne)
The Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council's subcommittee on criminal records will use less formal work sessions to study a proposal by the Virginia Press Association to redo section 2.2-3706, the FOIA section dedicated to law enforcement records.
The VPA proposal includes a reorganization of sections dealing with "criminal incident information." In testimony, VPA attorney Craig Merritt said the proposal was prompted by the inconsistency reporters face when asking for details of various crimes.
Prompted at least in part by legislation proposed by Sen. John Edwards (D-Roanoke) the past two years, the proposal also attempts to open up the files of criminal investigations that are no longer acive or ongoing. Currently law enforcement may release such files if there's no risk of suspects fleeing, destruction of evidence, etc. Some jurisdictions do release this information, and the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police remind police of this fact in its FOIA guide, but citizens and reporters around the state have found access unpredictable and sometimes completely lacking.
In testimony before the FOIA Council subcommittee, law enforcement expressed concern over release of victims' names (which nonetheless can be redacted under other portions of the statute) and unwarranted invasion of privacy.
Thanks to VCOG intern Michael Broome, it's easy to see that not all states share the same fears. Some 18 states allow access to closed files with no restrictions. Another 20 or so allow records to be released so long as they don't compromise confidential police tactics, witness safet or a trial's fairness. A more detailed look at Michael's findings can be downloaded here.
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