If you are a student journalist at a private college or university and want access to campus police records beyond basic log information, you must first determine if the campus police have law enforcement authority. If so, the campus police might be subject to your state’s open-records law. Each state’s open-records law is different, so you must research the relationship between your campus police and state law.
If your university’s police department is subject to state open-records law, you might have access to arrest reports, incident reports and investigative reports. Arrest reports and incident reports are the most widely available; investigative reports are often not made public when police are still investigating the crime.
If your university’s campus police do not have law enforcement authority, you might be able to obtain information about crimes committed on your campus through the local police department, which would handle crimes the campus police are not equipped to deal with.
But even if an open-records law does not apply, there are practical arguments you can make for disclosure of information about campus crime. Openness can dispel inaccurate rumors by ensuring that truthful information is available to the public. Disclosing information can also contribute to campus law enforcement’s credibility and strengthen trust between the campus community and the campus police.
For more information about getting campus crime information, see the SPLC publication Covering Campus Crime,at www.splc.org/ccc. For more information about your state’s open-records law, see Tapping Officials’ Secrets by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, at www.rcpf.org/tapping/index.cgi.