Wednesday, March 30, 2011

OSU police to student newspaper: Sue us if you want names that were redacted from incident report on alleged rape

OSU police officials on Monday redacted from an incident report the names of a female student filing a rape complaint and of the male student suspect, The Daily O'Collegian reported.

"Take us to court if you want to try to get us to release it," OSU police Capt. Richard Atkins told the student newspaper.

Atkins said the suspect and complainant know each other and that police had interviewed the man twice. He said OSU police also had served the man with an emergency protective order.

Even so, Atkins said releasing the suspect's name might harm the ongoing investigation.

The Oklahoma Open Records Act requires police departments to release the "initial offense report information showing the offense, date, time, general location, officer, and a brief summary of what occurred.” offense, date, time, general location, officer, and a brief summary of what occurred." (OKLA. STAT. tit. 51, § 24A.8(A)(3))

The newspaper noted that the police had not released the complete incident report because the names had been redacted.

OSU police routinely redact the names of sexual assault complainants from incident reports.

Several years ago, a student in my public affairs reporting course wrote about this practice by the OSU police and the Stillwater police. Officials in both departments claimed that they were required by state law to remove the names.

However, the statute cited by the departments doesn't give police permission to withhold names from police reports. Instead, it permits victims of domestic abuse, sexual assault or stalking to apply with the Oklahoma Secretary of State for a false address "to prevent their assailants or probable assailants from finding them." (OKLA. STAT. tit. 22, § 60.14(D))

The purpose of the Address Confidentiality Program is to enable state and local agencies to respond to requests for public records without disclosing the true location of a victim.

“A program participant may request that state and local agencies use the address designated by the Secretary of State as the address of the participant. When creating a new public record, state and local agencies shall accept the address designated by the Secretary of State as a substitute address for the program participant,” according to the statute.

When the student reporter pointed out this difference, Stillwater police said they would change their policy. I cannot vouch for whether they did.

OSU police officials at the time said they would continue redacting the names.

Joey Senat, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
OSU School of Media & Strategic Communications

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the commentators and do not necessarily represent the position of FOI Oklahoma Inc., its staff, or its board of directors. Differing interpretations of open government law and policy are welcome.

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