Is A Police Report A Public Record In The State of Alabama
A question that arises from time to time is whether or not a police report is a public record? If it is a public record, is all of it subject to release, or should portions of it be withheld? Many times it is a newspaper reporter who is requesting these reports.
The law is pretty clear that police reports are public records which are to be available for inspection by the general public, with some important exceptions. The state statute is § 36-12-40, Code of Ala. 1975, as amended. Another statute, § 12-21-3.1, Code of Ala. 1975, as amended, contains one of the important exceptions by providing that “law enforcement investigative reports and related investigative materials are not public records.” There has been a series of Alabama Attorney General Opinions issued on this topic, including the following:
96-128 - Records concerning pending criminal investigations are not subject to public disclosure. When the disclosure of information would compromise an investigation or be otherwise detrimental to the best interests of the public, that information may be withheld from public scrutiny.
97-043 - A Uniform Incident/Offense Report is a public record. However, portions of such reports may be kept confidential and not subject to public disclosure, especially any portion the disclosure of which would compromise criminal investigations, result in potential harm to innocent persons or infringe upon the constitutional rights of the accused.
00-004 - Section 12-21-3.1 of the Code of Alabama does not alter the long-standing and well-established principle that the information contained on the front of the Alabama Uniform Incident/Offense Report should be available to the public for inspection.
00-197 - Because the information contained on the front side of the Uniform Incident/Offense Report is a public record, it should, generally, be available for inspection and copying by any member of the public.
00-203 - It has been the longstanding and consistent position of this Office that the information contained on the front side of the Alabama Uniform Incident/Offense Report should be available for public inspection. Information gathered about a victim who is also a witness to a crime is protected from disclosure under longstanding and well recognized exceptions to the general rule that the information recorded on the front side of the Report is public information. Even when a victim is not also a witness, certain personal information about the victim (such as a social security number and telephone number) may be withheld when the remaining public information contained on the Report is disclosed. As a part of the officer’s work product, no portion of the back side of the Incident/Offense Report is a public record.
00-225 - Information gathered about a victim, who is also a witness to a crime, is protected from disclosure under longstanding and well-recognized exceptions to the general rule that the information recorded on the front side of the report is public information. Juvenile victims, who are also witnesses to the offense, are entitled to the same confidentiality protections as an adult victim/witness. Because of their status as juveniles, additional information about them may be withheld, such as their name. The public information contained in the Report must be made available for inspection and/or copying to any member of the public who requests access to it.
08-030 - A criminal complaint supporting an unexecuted arrest warrant is not subject to disclosure under the Open Records Act. Once the warrant has been executed, the complaint supporting the same becomes a public record. A custodian of public records may recoup reasonable costs incurred in providing pubic documents to a citizen including, where necessary, costs for retrieving and preparing the records and the actual cost of copying the records.
As long as a municipality is complying with these guidelines, a newspaper has no more right to police records than any other member of the general public. At the same time, a newspaper does have the right to inspect and/or copy those police records which are public records in accordance with the above guidelines.