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Our View: Records lawsuit ruling shouldn’t be appealed

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opinion River Falls, 54022
Hudson Star Observer
715-386-9891 customer support
River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

Last month, the Star-Observer’s sister paper, the New Richmond News, won its open records lawsuit over the city of New Richmond in a case involving the New Richmond Police Department’s practice of redacting information from police incident reports and accident reports.

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Although the suit was filed in New Richmond, the same rulings apply in Hudson. At the direction of the city attorney, the Hudson Police Department is also redacting information –- that is the reason police news in the Star-Observer has been in short supply for the past year or more.

Some municipalities argued that because the local police used records from the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles database to create their police incident reports, such information had to be redacted upon request of police records because of the Driver’s Privacy Protection Act. In Wisconsin about 70 agencies were enforcing that interpretation. Among those NOT withholding information were the village of North Hudson, the city of River Falls, St. Croix County and many more.

When St. Croix County Circuit Court Judge Howard Cameron’s decision came down last month, it included simple language: “...such disclosure is permitted under § 2721(b) and the Wisconsin Open Records Law requires the City to respond to records requests and provide such information in the performance of official duties… .”

Viewing or requesting a public police record should be very easy, not just for members of the press, but for any person who cares enough to take a look.

Not only is it required under law for government agencies to disclose public records, but it’s also a good practice to help police solve cases and keep people safe.

Well-informed citizens can be excellent allies for law enforcement officials. Publicizing aspects of a crime, or even the fact that one occurred, can encourage victims to come forward and keep neighborhoods vigilant.

So far, it has taken more than a year and tens of thousands of dollars in attorney’s fees to determine what everyone already knows: police records are public records.

As of this writing, neither the Hudson nor New Richmond police departments has changed its redaction policy as it awaits a decision from the city of New Richmond on whether to appeal Cameron’s ruling. We believe the current ruling should settle the issue across the state.

How much more time and money should be thrown away trying to uphold government secrecy?

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