Getting public records from police departments/agencies remains one of the most conflicted issues between a public news agency and government.
The primary reasons are lack of consistent reporting practices by police and the control of information in context of the rights of the person charged, arrested, or suspected in a crime. We contend the public right to know under state law is as significant.
Wake Forest has consistently failed at providing basic public records in an on-going basis that gives the information cited in state statute.
One thought is “Does anyone in the public arena care?” Another is there is absolutely no practical remedy statewide for police to be held accountability for releasing the exact notations under state law – including the loosely mandated request to the courts to release what is open even under the law.
The subjectivity among the thousands of law officers keeps basic information away from the public. The layers and layers of circumventing public record laws —particularly from police — have buried openness in criminal justice at the basic level.
This hasn’t really changed in decades in North Carolina; police in most of these circumstances do as they please, although some will follow exact standards of putting arrest records and reports in a specific place within a logical (again subjective) amount of time. Typically, when pushed, they will comply, but the next time and next get harder.
What can be a huge disservice to the public is when aninformal partnership exists of the local police with local governments through public relations mouthpieces that give some info but all under state law. Aggravating it, no one incident is treated like another especially if it has a greater public concern.
That is the case in Wake Forest, but honestly it has developed over years and years, much similar to any local government in the state.
The only true way to change is state public record laws (criminal records included) get a boost somehow to be taken seriously and to be standardized. Not likely to happen.
Another remedy is the old fashion one of relationship building and give and take — which is as ridiculous as it comes in theory because the public should know what is going on with crime in its area objectively and not at the decisiveness of three parties who can benefit each other later in news coverage generally.
A quick example is the recent shooting in the leg of a 14-year-old off Main Street by another “juvenile.” The age of the one taken into custody was not given. The police incident report has yet to be produced, yet the town spokesperson, town attorney and police department have collectively verbally given pieces of info here and there that this publication has somehow managed to put together a story of occurrences.
Now, there are laws that protect juveniles in NC — still yet another excuse often for police to arbitrarily select information to be released on a crime that has zip to do with the juvenile. But, that is not the focus here, as juveniles do indeed need protection for a variety of reasons and are rightly protected under law.
Consider, however what happened.
Was this a domestic situation? Kids playing with a gun – a rifle, a handgun, a stolen gun? Are kids running around shooting each other in Wake Forest? Was it gang related? Is this a bigger issue for the town to consider than perhaps more parking downtown? Does any of the town leadership care — even enough to address this in general terms? We don’t know, do we?
We think crime is the business of the public and needs to be discussed openly — specifically to the letter of the law and what is available legally and concernedly as citizens and leaders in a town where a young child just shot another one on the streets.
We are getting neither here.
— From The White Street Journal
A North Carolina statute states that “a minor is any person who has not reached the age of 18 years.” Without another statute or law that conflicts or explains this definition further, most people take this to mean someone who is aged 17 or younger is considered a minor in the eyes of a criminal court.• Delinquent Juvenile: A juvenile who is at least 6 but less than 18 years of age who commits an offense that would be a crime or infraction if committed by an adult, excluding 16- and 17-year-olds who commit motor vehicle offenses. Motor vehicle offenses committed by 16- and 17-year-olds are prosecuted in adult criminal court.
www.nccourts,gov/help; Judicial Branch.
§ 132-1.4. Criminal investigations; intelligence information records; Innocence Inquiry Commission records.
(a) Records of criminal investigations conducted by public law enforcement agencies, records of criminal intelligence information compiled by public law enforcement agencies, and records of investigations conducted by the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission, are not public records as defined by G.S. 132-1. Records of criminal investigations conducted by public law enforcement agencies or records of criminal intelligence information may be released by order of a court of competent jurisdiction.
(b) As used in this section:
(1) “Records of criminal investigations” means all records or any information that pertains to a person or group of persons that is compiled by public law enforcement agencies for the purpose of attempting to prevent or solve violations of the law, including information derived from witnesses, laboratory tests, surveillance, investigators, confidential informants, photographs, and measurements. The term also includes any records, worksheets, reports, or analyses prepared or conducted by the North Carolina State Crime Laboratory at the request of any public law enforcement agency in connection with a criminal investigation.
(2) “Records of criminal intelligence information” means records or information that pertain to a person or group of persons that is compiled by a public law enforcement agency in an effort to anticipate, prevent, or monitor possible violations of the law.
(3) “Public law enforcement agency” means a municipal police department, a county police department, a sheriff’s department, a company police agency commissioned by the Attorney General pursuant to G.S. 74E-1, et seq., and any State or local agency, force, department, or unit responsible for investigating, preventing, or solving violations of the law.
(4) “Violations of the law” means crimes and offenses that are prosecutable in the criminal courts in this State or the United States and infractions as defined in G.S. 14-3.1.
(5) “Complaining witness” means an alleged victim or other person who reports a violation or apparent violation of the law to a public law enforcement agency.
(c) Notwithstanding the provisions of this section, and unless otherwise prohibited by law, the following information shall be public records within the meaning of G.S. 132-1.
(1) The time, date, location, and nature of a violation or apparent violation of the law reported to a public law enforcement agency.
(2) The name, sex, age, address, employment, and alleged violation of law of a person arrested, charged, or indicted.
(3) The circumstances surrounding an arrest, including the time and place of the arrest, whether the arrest involved resistance, possession or use of weapons, or pursuit, and a description of any items seized in connection with the arrest.
(4) The contents of “911” and other emergency telephone calls received by or on behalf of public law enforcement agencies, except for such contents that reveal the natural voice, name, address, telephone number, or other information that may identify the caller, victim, or witness. In order to protect the identity of the complaining witness, the contents of “911” and other emergency telephone calls may be released pursuant to this section in the form of a written transcript or altered voice reproduction; provided that the original shall be provided under process to be used as evidence in any relevant civil or criminal proceeding.
(5) The contents of communications between or among employees of public law enforcement agencies that are broadcast over the public airways.
(6) The name, sex, age, and address of a complaining witness.
(d) A public law enforcement agency shall temporarily withhold the name or address of a complaining witness if release of the information is reasonably likely to pose a threat to the mental health, physical health, or personal safety of the complaining witness or materially compromise a continuing or future criminal investigation or criminal intelligence operation. Information temporarily withheld under this subsection shall be made available for release to the public in accordance with G.S. 132-6 as soon as the circumstances that justify withholding it cease to exist. Any person denied access to information withheld under this subsection may apply to a court of competent jurisdiction for an order compelling disclosure of the information. In such action, the court shall balance the interests of the public in disclosure against the interests of the law enforcement agency and the alleged victim in withholding the information. Actions brought pursuant to this subsection shall be set down for immediate hearing, and subsequent proceedings in such actions shall be accorded priority by the trial and appellate courts.
(e) If a public law enforcement agency believes that release of information that is a public record under subdivisions (c)(1) through (c)(5) of this section will jeopardize the right of the State to prosecute a defendant or the right of a defendant to receive a fair trial or will undermine an ongoing or future investigation, it may seek an order from a court of competent jurisdiction to prevent disclosure of the information. In such action the law enforcement agency shall have the burden of showing by a preponderance of the evidence that disclosure of the information in question will jeopardize the right of the State to prosecute a defendant or the right of a defendant to receive a fair trial or will undermine an ongoing or future investigation. Actions brought pursuant to this subsection shall be set down for immediate hearing, and subsequent proceedings in such actions shall be accorded priority by the trial and appellate courts.
(f) Nothing in this section shall be construed as authorizing any public law enforcement agency to prohibit or prevent another public agency having custody of a public record from permitting the inspection, examination, or copying of such public record in compliance with G.S. 132-6. The use of a public record in connection with a criminal investigation or the gathering of criminal intelligence shall not affect its status as a public record.
(g) Disclosure of records of criminal investigations and criminal intelligence information that have been transmitted to a district attorney or other attorney authorized to prosecute a violation of law shall be governed by this section and Chapter 15A of the General Statutes.
(h) Nothing in this section shall be construed as requiring law enforcement agencies to disclose the following:
(1) Information that would not be required to be disclosed under Chapter 15A of the General Statutes; or
(2) Information that is reasonably likely to identify a confidential informant.
(i) Law enforcement agencies shall not be required to maintain any tape recordings of “911” or other communications for more than 30 days from the time of the call, unless a court of competent jurisdiction orders a portion sealed.
(j) When information that is not a public record under the provisions of this section is deleted from a document, tape recording, or other record, the law enforcement agency shall make clear that a deletion has been made. Nothing in this subsection shall authorize the destruction of the original record.
(k) The following court records are public records and may be withheld only when sealed by court order: arrest and search warrants that have been returned by law enforcement agencies, indictments, criminal summons, and nontestimonial identification orders.
(l) Records of investigations of alleged child abuse shall be governed by Article 29 of Chapter 7B of the General Statutes. (1993, c. 461, s. 1; 1998-202, s. 13(jj); 2006-184, s. 7; 2010-171, s. 5; 2011-321, s. 1; 2013-360, s. 17.6(o).)