By: M.L. Stein
POLICE OFFICERS’ PERFORMANCE records are confidential, a Nevada judge ruled in a suit filed by the Reno Gazette-Journal.
The newspaper had sued the city to gain access to police personnel records and other documents relating to the death of a Reno cop killed in a parachuting accident at Fallon Naval Air Station. Washoe County District Judge Peter Breen conceded that police personnel files are public records because they are “inexorably connected to the public interest,” but held that because of the “nature of police and law enforcement activity and the inherent dangers thereto, the balance weighs against their unfettered disclosure.”
The newspaper is appealing, and the Nevada Press Association has agreed to support the appeal. The Gannett paper has argued that personnel actions regarding a police officer’s performance must be disclosed under the state’s public records law. It allowed that such records as home telephone numbers, Social Security numbers and medical information are entitled to privacy but stressed that the public has a strong interest in police conduct.
The city and the police officers’ union countered that releasing personnel files would be detrimental to the officers and public safety.
Breen agreed, saying that disclosure of personnel records “would have a great potential for affecting the safety and performance of law enforcement personnel by the indiscriminate decimation (sic) of information about someone who’s (sic) life could be in danger.”
He said disclosure could “undermine the respect officers have for each other” and saw no public interest in opening records of officer Keith Hashimoto’s jump with his sergeant.
The newspaper has raised the question of whether the officers were on duty at the time of the accident. The paper also has asked for a 600-page draft report submitted to the city by the Navy concerning the jump, but received only a summary.
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?(copyright: Editor & Publisher March 28, 1998) [Caption]