Police log gaps raise questions about access laws

By Madeline Buckley, Margaret Fosmoe, Associated Press | Posted - Sep. 15, 2014 at 8:20 a.m.



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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — In October 2010, University of Notre Dame junior Declan Sullivan died when the scissor lift from which he was filming a football team practice fell to the ground.

Three years later, Mark Ellsworth, hired as part of a crew to cut down trees to make way for a new campus parking lot, was killed by a falling tree.

Last weekend, a man was critically injured when he fell down a stairwell in the university's Main Building.

In all three cases, Notre Dame Security Police, an authorized police force under Indiana law, investigated. Yet there were no police reports made available, and the three cases never showed up on the campus police log.

As mandated by the federal Clery Act, Notre Dame Security Police keeps a log of criminal incidents reported on campus. The Clery Act requires all colleges that participate in federal financial aid programs keep a record and disclose to the public information about certain crimes on and near their campuses.

But Notre Dame officials say the campus police force has no legal obligation to provide a log of accidents and other non-criminal incidents the department investigates.

The holes in the university's incident log raise the question: Should a fully certified police force be subject to Indiana's public records laws?

Meanwhile, other private universities and colleges in Indiana that have authorized police forces vary wildly in how those departments keep incident logs.

Some experts and state officials say sworn police officers -- even those working on private university campuses -- are under the purview of state law.

"If you have a police agency that is enforcing state law, that entity falls under the public records law," Stephen Key, executive director and general counsel of the Hoosier State Press Association, told the South Bend Tribune (http://bit.ly/ZmHkP8 ).

Public access to that information is critical so citizens know how agencies enforcing Indiana law are operating, Key said. When questions arise about such issues as police use of force, response time or level of professionalism, the public needs access to make an informed judgment about how the agencies are performing, he said.

"They can't address these issues if certain information is not made publicly available," he said. "It may be a private individual who is injured on private property, but it falls under the scope of the state."

Luke Britt, Indiana's public access counselor, said any police force deputized under state law is subject to the state's access to public records law.

"If they are under the badge, they are going to be a public law enforcement agency," Britt said.

An appointee of Gov. Mike Pence, Britt advises on the state's public access laws.

University officials say the Notre Dame Security Police department is fully authorized as a police agency by the state of Indiana.

The department employs trained professional police officers who carry guns, have arrest powers and investigate serious crimes, including campus sexual assaults. Notre Dame Security Police maintains an online crime log: www3.nd.edu/(tilde)ndspd/nwsblot.

Notre Dame doesn't include accidents on its police log, only crimes, campus spokesman Dennis Brown said.

University leaders have long maintained that because Notre Dame is a private university, NDSP isn't required to include all the types of calls and details on its crime log that Indiana city, town and county police departments must include on their logs.

But others disagree.

Key said this issue has arisen occasionally over the years regarding various private colleges and universities in Indiana that have professional police forces.

"The statute is clear: If you have a law enforcement agency, there is certain information the legislature has said must be made available," he said.

Key also noted that, when a police agency receives a call about an injury, the responding officers can't always determine immediately whether the incident was an accident or a crime. That's why officers must investigate. For that reason, Key said, he would argue that incidents such as the man falling down a stairwell at Notre Dame should be included in the campus police log.

Any police agency enforcing Indiana law is required to maintain a daily log that lists suspected crimes, accidents or complaints. The log must contain certain basic information: the time, substance and location of all complaints or requests for assistance, and the time and nature of the agency's response.

If an incident involves an alleged crime or infraction, the log must contain: the time, date and location of the occurrence; the name and age of the victim (except victims of sex crimes); the factual circumstances surrounding the incident; and a general description of any injuries, property or weapons involved. The public record with the information must be created within 24 hours after the suspected crime, accident or complaint is reported to the agency.

Private institutions such as Butler University, Valparaiso University, Anderson University and Indiana Wesleyan University employ sworn police officers certified in Indiana to investigate serious crimes and make arrests.

Like Notre Dame, Butler University's police force logs only incidents that are required by the Clery Act, said Andy Ryan, the department's assistant chief for administration.

"If we had a fatal accident, it would not go on the log unless there was a crime," Ryan said, though he noted the department would likely release a statement about campus incidents that would be of interest to the public.

The Anderson University police department, though, reports all incidents that officers respond to or that are reported to police, whether or not it is a crime listed in the Clery Act.

"Our crime log has everything we do," said Rick Garrett, chief of the police department at the university.

The logs lists accidents and medical calls as well crime reports, though Garrett said the log does not list the name of any victims involved in an accident.

___

Information from: South Bend Tribune, http://www.southbendtribune.com

This is an AP Member Exchange shared by the South Bend Tribune.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Madeline Buckley
    Margaret Fosmoe

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