Attorney General's Opinion 1982-83 #707



October 4, 1982

The Honorable Bernard S. Cohen
Member, House of Delegates

82-83 707

This is in reply to your letter of September 22, 1982, concerning the construction of the phrase "submitted in confidence" which appears in §2.l-342(b)(1) of the Code of Virginia and is part of the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, §§2.1-340 through 2.1-346.1, (the "Act"). According to your letter, a report was prepared by one police officer and submitted to the chief of police at the latter's request. You state that the report is otherwise subject to disclosure by the Act. Section 2.1-342(b)(1) specifically exempts from the mandatory disclosure provisions of the Act:

"Memoranda, correspondence, evidence and complaints related to criminal investigations, reports submitted to the state and local ace and the campus police departments of police institutions of higher education as established by Chapter 17 of Title 23 (23-232 et seq.) of the Code of Virginia in confidence...." (Emphasis added.)

As a general rule, words in a statute should be given their usual, commonly understood meaning.1 The term "police" is defined generally as "the department of government concerned primarily with maintenance of public order, safety and health and enforcement of lasw.2

Accordingly, I am of the opinion that the language, "reports submitted to confidence.." in §2.1-342(b)(1), encompasses reports submitted by persons outside of the police department to the police department rather than to internal reports submitted by one police officer to another.3 To conclude otherwise would be contrary to the purpose of the Act as expressly stated by the General Assembly.4



1 1980-1981 Report of the Attorney General at 58. See, also, The Covington Virginian, Inc. v. Woods, 182 Va. 538,9 S. 2d 406 (1944).

2 Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary (1976).

3 Such reports may be exempt under other provisions of the Act, for example, memoranda and reports related to criminal investigations or personnel matters would be exempt.

4 Section 2.1-340.1 requires that the Act "shall be liberally construed to promote an increased awareness by all persons of governmental activities and afford every opportunity to citizens to witness the operations of government Any exception or exemption from applicability shall be narrowly construed in order that no thing which should be public may be hidden from any person."