Ind. official says private university’s police are not subject to open-records law

INDIANA— A former Taylor University student appealed an opinion by thestate’s public access counselor that favored granting campus police impunityfrom open-records laws, but the counselor refused to change his stance.Michael Hurst, the government official who issues opinions andinterprets Indiana open-records laws, wrote an advisory opinion last week thatTaylor University’s campus police force is not a public agency and thusnot subject to open-records requests. The opinion was issued in response toformer Taylor student Justin McLaughlin’s complaint that the university policedepartment was not complying with state open-records laws. McLaughlinwrote an informal appeal last week to Hurst, but Hurst said he stood by hisdecision.Although the Taylor University police are deputized by thestate police and have identical powers to arrest suspects — both on andoff campus — Hurst said the police do not have to disclose their recordsto the public because Taylor University is private. Under Indianaopen-records law, state police departments must release all police records uponrequest unless disclosure will interfere with an ongoing investigation.”It is my opinion that the Campus Security Office is not a ‘publicbody,'” Hurst wrote in his response to McLaughlin’scomplaint.McLaughlin responded with a five-page appeal that outlineswhy he felt the Office of Campus Safety is a public agency and should be subjectto the same public scrutiny as any police force.”I respond with force toyour opinion because, effectively, it says that the State of Indiana has legallyauthorized the creation of police forces equal to sheriff’s deputies in powerand authority, with shared jurisdiction in certain geographical areas, the powerto arrest and detain citizens, without government control and public oversightof their operations,” McLaughlin wrote in his appeal.McLaughlin, aformer student journalist at Taylor University, originally requested policerecords while researching a series of crimes at the university, including thetheft of expensive camera equipment from the Communications Department lastspring. He said he was unsure whether he will file a lawsuit to obtain therecords, but he did say, “I’m willing to move forward.”Access to campuspolice records at private schools has become an important issue for manyjournalists covering campus crime. The Taylor University case resembles twoothers at Harvard and Cornell universities, both private schools. InJuly, the Harvard Crimson sued Harvard for barring journalists fromaccessing police records. And last week, the Ithaca Journal appealed adecision by Cornell officials to withhold police records from the commercialpaper. In both cases, the universities claimed that their campussecurity forces are not public agencies and thus not subject to stateopen-records laws.

Read previous coverage