Bills targeting incidents reports alive

Published 11:16 pm Wednesday, February 20, 2008

JACKSON (AP) — Rep. Jessica Upshaw says the House didn’t debate a public records bill on Wednesday because ‘‘all the parties involved are trying to work something out.’’

Upshaw, R-Diamondhead, a member of the House Judiciary A Committee, said the media, law enforcement agencies and others were still trying to reach middle ground on the bill.

The bill was to be debated on Wednesday, but Upshaw made the motion to take no floor action for now. The bill can be brought up at a later date.

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Mississippi news organizations and others contend that some law enforcement agencies refuse to disclose information in crime incident reports that should public. Several of the state’s newspapers, The Associated Press and Mississippi Center for Freedom of Information, this month contributed to a series of articles examining problems related to the state’s open records and open meetings laws.

Law officers have argued that releasing information in incident reports could jeopardize or compromise some investigations.

Under the House bill, the minimum information included in the incident reports would be the name and identification of each person charged and arrested. It would also include when and where the alleged offense occurred.

The bill defines an investigative report as agency records that contain information beyond the scope of the matters contained in an incident report.

The bill makes an incident report a public record, and says a law enforcement agency may release information in it, as well as additional information.

Donna Echols Mabus, a lobbyist for the Mississippi Association of Chiefs of Police, said the question is when does an incident report become an investigative report, and ‘‘truly impede the investigation?’’

‘‘If I have an incident at my home and law enforcement is called out, do I really want my neighbors, my family and my employers to know that information. At what point does an incident report protect my right to privacy?’’ Echols Mabus said.

Layne Bruce, executive director of the Mississippi Press Association, presented the scenario of a string of purse snatchings at a grocery store.

‘‘They don’t have to comply to give that information to the press. Obviously we feel that information is of value and public benefit,’’ said Bruce.

‘‘Our issues have been that both sides have been trying to communicate exactly what information we’re searching for … the what, when and where of any incident, and if there were any parties arrested or charged in those incidents,’’ he said.

The bill would penalize agencies that deny access to the incident reports — a $25 fine for each day access was denied, plus pay legal costs associated if a suit is filed against them. A public records bill pending in the Senate has the same provision.

Echols Mabus also said that there’s concern about the fee provisions, which could impact municipalities and all state agencies.

Judiciary B Chairman Gray Tollison, D-Oxford, whose committee is handling the Senate bill, said requiring basic information on incident reports of people arrested or charged ‘‘is a good filter’’ because police don’t always make an arrest when they investigate a call.

Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, who presides over the Senate and is a former sheriff’s deputy, said he would support the open records bill ‘‘as long the released incident reports do not compromise investigations or law enforcement techniques, I support additional sunshine.’’


The bills are House Bill 474 and Senate Bill 2728.