The Free Press, University of Southern Maine’s newspaper, was granted access to campus police records after threatening the university with a lawsuit.
In previous years, The Free Press staff could only view a special “Clery Act log,” said to include all criminal activity on campus. The “Clery log” existed separately from the formal police log, which included all police actions. Reporters, however, believed the police were holding back information and demanded access to the full police record.
“The students argued they were entitled to review the formal police log under the state’s Freedom of Access Act,” said Bonnie Rodden, faculty adviser to The Free Press. “They were repeatedly rebuffed by university officials.”
“We just wanted to make sure that everything that needed to be in the ‘Clery log’ was going in there,” said Steve Peoples, executive editor for The Free Press.
University counsel claimed the school was only required to disclose the criminal activity in accordance with the Clery Act, which requires all schools to submit yearly campus crime reports and make their crime statistics open and available to the public.
The newspaper contacted pro bono lawyer Sigmund Schutz, who told the university his firm was willing to sue for access to the full police log, Rodden said.
The university agreed to make a redacted police record available to the newspaper with confidential information “blacked out.”
“[The university lawyer] told us that complying with the editors’ requests would be a burden on the police department,” Rodden said.
In a final effort, the police department said the records would need to be viewed at the police department, but then announced that reporters may also photocopy the information.