FOI Advisory Council Opinion AO-10-03


April 23, 2003

Mr. Bernard Baker
Danville Register & Bee
Danville, Virginia

The staff of the Freedom of Information Advisory Council is authorized to issue advisory opinions. The ensuing staff advisory opinion is based solely upon the information presented in your e-mail of February 10, 2003.

Dear Mr. Baker:

You have asked whether you may access a copy of a suicide report from the Danville Police Department under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). You indicate that when you requested the report, including the name of the person who committed suicide, the City of Danville ("the City") withheld the report in its entirety. In its written response, the City stated that the police could withhold the identity of any "victim, witness or cover up officer" pursuant to § 2.2-3706 of the Code of Virginia. You ask whether this section would allow the police to withhold the suicide report, and whether the City's response to your request was appropriate under FOIA.

Subsection A of § 2.2-3704 states that [e]xcept as otherwise specifically provided by law, all public records shall be open to inspection and copying. Section 2.2-3706, cited by the City in response to your request, specifically addresses access to criminal records and other records held by law-enforcement agencies.

Subsection G of § 2.2-3706 states that [r]ecords kept by law-enforcement agencies as required by § 15.2-1722 shall be subject to the provisions of [FOIA]. Of these records, subdivision G 1 of § 2.2-3706 exempts [t]hose portions of noncriminal incident or other investigative reports or materials containing information of a personal, medical or financial nature provided to a law-enforcement agency where the release of such information would jeopardize the safety or privacy of any person. Subsection A of § 15.2-1722 requires the sheriff or chief of police of a locality to insure, in addition to other records required by law, the maintenance of adequate personnel, arrest, investigative, reportable incidents, and noncriminal incidents records necessary for the efficient operation of a law-enforcement agency. Subsection B of § 15.2-1722 defines "noncriminal incidents records" to include compilations of noncriminal occurrences of general interest to law-enforcement agencies, such as missing persons, lost and found property, suicides and accidental deaths. (Emphasis added).

Tying these various provisions together, it is clear that a suicide report would be subject to inspection and copying under FOIA as a noncriminal incident report required to be maintained pursuant to § 15.2-1722. Certain portions of that report, such as the name of the person who committed suicide, may be withheld pursuant to subdivision G 1 of § 2.2-3706. However, the exemption only applies to those portions of the report of a personal, medical, or financial nature, and does not allow a law-enforcement agency to withhold the entire report just because it may contain some of this information. Subdivision B 3 of § 2.2-3704 states that a public body may delete or excise only that portion of the record to which an exemption applies and shall release the remainder of the record. Therefore, the appropriate response under FOIA would be to release the report, but redact any personal, medical, or financial information.

Thank you for contacting this office. I hope that I have been of assistance.


Maria J.K. Everett
Executive Director