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Monday, June 25, 2012

T-P sues city over redactions in NOPD reports

Posted By on Mon, Jun 25, 2012 at 12:55 PM

The Times-Picayune reported on Friday that it has initiated a lawsuit against the city of New Orleans over a new New Orleans Police Department policy of redacting victim information from incident reports, which the newspaper contends is a violation of the state open records law.

From their story:

When [police reporter Brendan] McCarthy asked for an explanation of the redactions, the city attorney's office responded that the location of the incident should not have been redacted, but that it was appropriate to black out the other items. The newspaper asserts in its lawsuit that "there is no legal exemption" that allows the city to redact any of that information.

(Continued after the jump)

I first became aware of this policy on May 17, when McCarthy tweeted this:


So I went to NOPD to confirm. By the next day, my simple request for a confirmation (sent to the public information office) was routed through the City Attorney's office and Commander Heather Kouts of the NOPD Records and Identification Division. Here's the response I received.

Mr. Maldonado:

We are redacting information that would tend to identify the victim in the incident reports. With the potential for retaliation and victim/witness cooperation key to our investigations, we believe the Public Records Law allows for the redaction of this information. The Record room has been redacting Incident and Accident Reports for a very long period of time, and will continue to do so.

Thank you, Mr. Maldonado, and to the Gambit Weekly, for your inquiry.

Cmdr. Kouts

I responded, asking (1) what was the basis for the belief that the policy complied with open records laws? (Like, a legal opinion of some kind?) And (2) for a definition of "very long period of time" since this policy seemed to be fairly new. (After all, the NOPD was releasing not only victim names but arrest records until recently. And it was doing that in what we shorthand as "press releases" but are actually community announcement emails, sent out to lists which anyone can subscribe to.) I never received any response to that.

The T-P reports that there will be a hearing on the lawsuit in Orleans Parish Civil District Court on July 2.

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