If you're a reporter or a citizen, Buffalo police are still withholding crime information that's a matter of public record under the state Freedom of Information Law. I found out first-hand Tuesday.
I'm working a story about a home invasion that happened a couple of weeks ago in University Heights. I went to E District on Bailey Avenue to get a copy of the incident report, which presumably contains more information than the watered-down version available to the press through a database in police HQ downtown that fails to list even the address of the house.
The report technician was full of questions when I asked for a copy of the report. Who was I? What did I want it for?
I explained that I was a reporter for The News working on a story. Behind her protective wall of clear Plexiglas, she retrieved a copy of the report, held it up in front of me and announced I could not have a copy.
"According to our rules, if your name isn't on it, I can't give you a copy," announced report technician Linda Craig.
Craig was backed up later in the day by her boss, E District Chief Fred Young, who said police can withhold the report because it contains a phone number of a victim.
They're both wrong, says Bob Freeman, executive director of the state Committee on Open Government.
"A blanket denial of a request (for an incident report) is clearly inconsistent with the Freedom of Information Law." he said.
Freeman added that the issue was settled some time ago by the highest court in the state.
Police can redact sensitive information but can't use it as grounds to withhold the entire document, Freeman said.
Police refusal to release incident reports isn't just a problem for reporters. Vanessa Thomas, the paper's daytime police reporter the past six years, said she's fielded complaints from citizens who have been turned down by police when they attempted to get incident reports on crime in their neighborhood.
Keep in mind, this is not a matter of police giving the public incomplete information from incident reports. I'm talking about not giving them any information, period. No report, no nothing.
As for what the police are providing the press, the department has yet to restore all the information in incident reports that had been available before the recent flap. Police have resumed including the street address of the crime location. But the address of the victim, as well as their date of birth, is often missing.
All of this is public record under the FOI Law and had been previously provided by police. The News uses this information for fact checking purposes and does not release sensitive information when it could endanger a crime victim.
"It's still hit and miss when it comes to these reports," Thomas said. "Most police incident reports have incomplete information despite two separate memos from the top police brass."
taggedBuffalo police, crime