Injuring Public Record?

   

Back in November of 2021 Citizens for a New Louisiana sent a series of requests seeking information concerning changes that were made within the Lafayette Police Department pertaining to the release of public information.

With rising crime rates across the nation, state, and parish we feel it is important for the public to have access to sufficient facts to make informed decisions concerning their own safety and security. What we learned was that while crime rates are increasing, local government transparency in this area is decreasing. We wanted to know Why the Change in the content of reports?

So, our November request sought “The initial report for complaint number 20-00435182, including each and every revision which has occurred since the report was initially generated and any and all electronically saved information, including but not limited to the report “synopsis.” But this week’s response is shocking!

Initial reports are public record!

While the Louisiana public records law is riddled with exemptions, exceptions, excuses, and downright conflicting language it is pretty clear when it comes to initial reports. Within what is the probably the most commonly cited section of the public records law pertaining to ‘law enforcement exemptions’ appears the unequivocal language: “…the initial report of the officer or officers investigating a complaint,… shall be a public record. The statute goes on to lists specific information that must be contained in the initial report including: “a narrative description of the alleged offense,” “the name and identification of each person charged with or arrested,” “time and date of the alleged offense,” “location,” “property involved,” “vehicles involved,” and “names of investigating officers.”

The Louisiana Attorney General has opined that “all the information in the initial police report unless it falls within a specific statutory exception for nondisclosure” must be released. Louisiana courts have held that the “reporting officer or officers may not defeat purpose of disclosure statute by including only selected information in initial report and placing remainder in subsequent report” and the initial report “does not merely refer to a document, but to the information contained in the documents, and it is this information, comprising all the facts learned by the officer or officers who conducted the initial investigation of a complaint, that is a matter of public record.”

The Response

So, when we sought “the initial report for complaint number 20-00435182, including each and every revision which has occurred since the report was initially generated and any and all electronically saved information” we were baffled when to receive this response. LCG, through the attorney assigned to handle the request, indicated “please be advised ADSI is unable to pull a prior version of an Initial Report. As you can see from the attached invoice, ADSI made an update regarding how Initial Reports to be released to the public are created.” So, the information that was released to the public in December of 2020 and was removed from a later revision of the document no later than October 4, 2021 is no longer available either electronically or in a prior version.

Does this constitute injuring public records?

The Louisiana criminal code provides for the crime of “injuring public records.” While “mutilation” and “destruction” are the most common thought of forms of injury to public records they are not the only ones. The crime of injuring public records also includes: “removal,” “alteration,” “falsification,” and “concealment”. Sometimes “the glove don’t fit”, but other times it fits just fine.

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Citizens for a New Louisiana is the only organization in Louisiana dedicated to reforming local government. With the help of numerous volunteers we are making some progress. However, there’s much more work we could be doing. Making a difference will take a little more than reading an article every now and then. Your community doesn’t need another spectator. They need someone willing to step onto the field and become a real part of the solution. Will you join us?

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