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Open Government Advocates Girding for Battle with the City of Dallas Over Removal of Portions of Online Public Police Reports

Online and broadcast reports in Dallas and beyond indicate the Dallas Police Department has begun redacting portions of police offense reports that have long been available through the city’s Open Data portal.

KERA-FM Dallas reported the city’s Office of Data Analytics and Business Intelligence (DBI) has removed names, phone numbers and addresses from offense reports in the Open Data Portal.

“It is a troubling move by public officials as basic information in police offense reports make up most of everyday police reporting, let alone in-depth investigative reporting which holds law enforcement accountable for its actions,” said TAB President Oscar Rodriguez.

The information, such as the names of complainants and names of homicide victims, along with other types of “basic information” contained in an offense report have long been considered public because of a landmark 1975 public information appellate court decision in Houston Chronicle Publishing Co. vs. City of Houston.

As noted in the TAB’s Newsroom Legal Guide, the court’s decision was catalogued in 1976 by Texas Attorney General Open Records Decision No. 127.

According to the legal guide, “basic information” is information that ordinarily appears on the first page of an offense report, such as: (a) the name, age, address, race, sex, occupation, alias, social security number, police department identification number, and physical condition of the arrested person; (b) the date and time of the arrest; (c) the place of the arrest; (d) the offense charged and the court in which it is filed; (e) the details of the arrest; (f) booking information; (g) the notation of any release or transfer; (h) bonding information; (i) the location of the crime; (j) the identification and description of the complainant; (k) the premises involved; (l) the time of occurrence of the crime; (m) the property involved, if any; (n) the vehicles involved, if any; (o) a description of the weather; (p) a detailed description of the offense; and (q) the names of the arresting and investigating officers.

An internal City of Dallas memo is also recommending other changes intended to protect “sensitive information” concerning officers and victims.

In an interview with the Dallas Morning News, Dallas Chief of Police Eddie Garcia said he was in favor of the changes.

But not all city leaders are on board with the move.

“We talk very often about making information available, not less. And making things more transparent, not less,” said Dallas City Council member Cara Mendelsohn at a meeting of the city’s Public Safety Committee earlier this month.

“I just don't feel like there should have been a decision that didn't get council input and didn't get community input.”

KERA reported Mendelsohn is calling for a meeting of the full city council on the issue.

Questions? Contact TAB’s Michael Schneider or call (512) 322-9944.

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