University cannot conceal information on police reports, attorney general rules

KENTUCKY — University of Kentucky police violated the state open-records act when they blacked out the names and addresses of victims from incident reports released in open-records requests, the state attorney general said.

In an opinion dated Oct. 15, the attorney general said the university did not meet its burden of proof in denying a request from the Kentucky Kernel student newspaper for eight police incident reports. The police must prove releasing personal information will significantly infringe on a victim’s right to privacy, Attorney General Greg Stumbo ruled.

The public has a legitimate interest in the incident reports and the information released results in a minimal invasion of privacy, the opinion said. Full disclosure in the public interest is considered superior to an individual’s privacy unless the police can prove “a heightened privacy interest,” Stumbo said.

In August, the university implemented a policy of allowing victims to have their names withheld from documents released as a result of open-records requests. The policy was a result of an on-campus assault of a university employee who requested that the police withhold his name. Unable to find a way to protect his identity at the time, the school released his name to local media.

After the policy went into effect, police continued to release the first page of incident reports — with blacked-out information — to comply with the federal Clery Act. University officials considered incident reports to be preliminary documents, exempt from open-records requests, but the attorney general rejected that distinction.

University of Kentucky Counsel General Barbara Jones said the university will immediately comply with the decision. Information previously blacked out will be released if a request is made, she said.

Kentucky Kernel Editor in Chief Emily Hagedorn said the paper plans to request the police records again to make sure nothing was overlooked in its original reporting.

Hagedorn said the newspaper expected the attorney general to issue a ruling in line with the open-records law.

“We kind of thought we would win because it seemed like such a clear-cut case of a violation of the open-records law,” she said. “But we are definitely really happy about it.”

See previous coverage:
Ky. school officials begin withholding crime victims’ namesNews Flash, 9/27/2004