Contact: Charles Davis, FOI Chair, 573/882-5736, firstname.lastname@example.org
ATLANTA – On the last day of its 2006 session, the Georgia General Assembly approved a law that will give the public access to the investigative records of private college police departments.
The language amending the state Campus Policemen Act, which applies only to private college campuses, was spliced onto another bill that passed Thursday, March 30, during the waning hours of the legislative session in a parliamentary move sponsored by Sen. David Adelman, D-Atlanta.
It states: “Law enforcement records created, received, or maintained by campus policemen that relate to the investigation of criminal conduct and crimes as defined under Georgia law and which are not subject to protection from disclosure by any other Georgia law shall be made available within a reasonable time after request for public inspection and copying."
Police records at public college campuses are already public under the state Open Records Act, but the Georgia Court of Appeals ruled in 2005 that it did not apply to private colleges. The court ruled that the Open Records Act was worded so that it could not be applied to records developed and maintained by a private school’s police department, even though the department’s officers were state certified.
Adelman had introduced legislation in the 2005 session of the Georgia Legislature to correct the Open Records Act by bringing the private campus police departments under the law. That bill passed the Georgia Senate and the House Judiciary Committee but died in the House Rules Committee in the final days of the 2006 session.
Adelman was able to amend the Campus Policemen Act by tacking the language onto HB1302,
a bill related to law enforcement involving street gang activity at public schools. He said he did not think it mattered that the new language is not part of the Open Records Act.
”It’s a distinction without a difference,” Adelman said. “This law protects the right to know of the many thousands of Georgians who live, work, play and study on private college campuses.”
“With this law in place, police at private colleges will have to release to the public their initial crime incident reports and arrest records just like all other Georgia police departments already do,” said Carolyn S. Carlson, a Georgia State University professor who lobbied for the language on behalf of the Society of Professional Journalists.
“Other records gathered and prepared during an ongoing investigation are exempt from disclosure under Georgia law but they all become available to the public when the investigation is completed,” she said.
Similar legislation is pending in the Massachusetts Senate. Virginia is the only state that currently has a law requiring private college police departments to make their records public.
The Society of Professional Journalists works to improve and protect journalism. SPJ is dedicated to encouraging the free practice of journalism and stimulating high standards of ethical behavior. Carlson is a past national president of the organization.
Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, and based in Indianapolis, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed public, works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists, and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press.