Journalists Concerned As Police Withhold More Information From Public


Journalists are worried about the impact of a federal appeals court ruling they say violates Wisconsin’s open records laws.

The ruling came last August in a case in Palatine Village, Illinois where a man successfully sued the police department for including personal information on a parking ticket placed on his car windshield. It has prompted several Wisconsin police departments to refuse to release the names of people who’ve been arrested. Bill Lueders of the Wisconsin Freedom of information Council says this is an overreaction that could prevent the public from finding out who has been arrested for a wide variety of crimes.

“We have a situation now where there is such a thing as a secret arrest: where police can arrest someone, deprive them of their liberty and not reveal their name. That is intolerable.”

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The ruling was written to deter stalkers and identity thieves. Madison assistant city attorney Roger Allen says it has prompted some increased redaction of personal information by the Madison Police department.

“If you want a police report or an accident report in Madison, you come to our police department and [you] will get the name and identity of the person arrested. What you won’t get is the things that can assist either a stalker or a person bent on identify theft.”

That includes Social Security numbers, date of birth and home address, but Allen says other jurisdictions are going further in their efforts to redact information.

A newspaper in the northwestern Wisconsin city of New Richmond is challenging the increased redaction of personal information by the police department there. The suit brought by the New Richmond News says the practice violates the state’s open records laws. That case is pending before a federal judge in Madison.