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OUR VIEW: Clarify police log openness with SB 85

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opinion Mitchell, 57301
The Daily Republic
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Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

The South Dakota Legislature will soon consider clarifying a law that should have been more specific in the first place.

In 2004, the Legislature approved SB 60, which made it permissible for law enforcement agencies to release police log information. It was a good start, since South Dakota was behind the times in public openness and because people deserve to see what business the police are conducting.

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The problem with the 2004 law is that it states the daily logs be released at the discretion of an agency. The bill that will come before the Legislature this year would clarify the wording to say police logs shall be released to the public.  

It may not seem like much, but this is a big deal. Allowing law-enforcement agencies to use their own discretion on what the public sees could, in effect, mean that those public records will not see the light of day — or at least not in their entirety.

This issue came up in the Legislature last year, but it was, unfortunately, part of a bill that also would have made all police mug shots public. That didn’t go over so well, because many feel mug shots should not be public record.

We disagree with that, but for now, we’ll take our battles one at a time.

A few specifics about Senate Bill 85:

  • It does not require agencies to keep a log if they do not do so today.
  • It does not require agencies to release the information in any specific format.
  • It would not add costs to any public entity.
  • It would still allow an agency to keep certain information confidential if it is part of an ongoing investigation.
  • It would still allow the log to be void of any personal or identifiable information. It would only include the time, date, general location and subject matter of each police call.

Of course, we’ll hear someone proclaim that the current system isn’t broken, and there’s no reason to tinker with it. But any record that is allowed to be seen by the public at the discretion of its originating agency isn’t truly open.

To the Legislature, we say fix this flaw and approve SB 85.

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