Longstanding Madison tradition – the media bin

There was an interesting tidbit in the Wisconsin State Journal this morning. Looks like a “longstanding Madison tradition” is under fire. Apparently, the Madison police have for many years kept a “media bin” that they put crime reports in and then journalists dig through for reporting purposes. That’s a good idea — presumably it makes the journalist’s job easier (they don’t have to file request after request) and the police department’s job easier (they don’t have to respond to request after request). Streamlining processes always seems like a good idea to me, and since these reports are a matter of public record anyway, why not make it as easy as possible to access them?

The answer is, of course, exemptions to the open records law. Grr, exemptions. We can all agree with some of them (juvenile records for example), but when there are too many problems arise.

I took a look at the policy referenced in the WSJ article (pages 285-291), and found that there are a LOT of exemptions to openness included. Examples:

  • records that may diminish a suspect’s likelihood of a fair trial
  • records including reference to police investigative procedures
  • release of information that may cause harm to the public good
  • etc, etc, just trust us, we’ll tell you what you need to know

Most of these sound reasonable on the surface, but when it comes to really understanding the workings of our police (which we all deserve), I think the public ought to have the final say regarding how much information is too much. Not the agencies working to serve the public, the public itself.

Bill Lueders (of WISFOIC) is right when he says:

They need to rethink this policy and should again provide as much information as they possibly can.”

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