The idea that a public document reviewed or collected by a researcher in Iowa can be considered confidential forever is a relatively new interpretation of the law and one that makes it impossible for the public to politicize the police, an author of the forty-year-old state. the old public records law and a defender of state records say.

Wow Law Enforcement in Iowa has for decades made records in general, such as full police reports and 911 transcripts that were available to the public after an investigation was completed, noted Randy Evans, Director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, a non-profit organization .

But in recent years, several law enforcement agencies in Iowa have claimed that any record that is part of their research file – even secondary records produced by other bodies that are not directly related to a case – should always be considered confidential.

They apply for an exemption in the Iowa public registers law, which means that material in investigation files of law enforcement authorities is treated confidentially.

This provision is generally considered to be a reference to current research, and not that decided by law enforcement, Arthur Bonfield, a retired professor of law at the University of Iowa, told the Registry in 2016.

"This exemption is only intended to apply if it is part of an ongoing investigation," Bonfield said.

Read it yourself: Iowa Code 22.7: Confidential files.

But the exemption has been interpreted very differently in recent years.

In 2014, the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation refused to release records in several cases where people died after agents shocked them with 50,000 volts of Tasers.

In that case, the registry has sued the DCI, which provided the data before the process was started. The reports showed that the man was shocked at least 15 times by the electric weapons.

The register first documented the sound-damping effect that the interpretation of the law had on public information in a study from 2016.

The Department of Public Safety denied all or parts of 40 of the 59 record requests it received during the first six months of that year, the Registry's investigation. Of the 40 denials, 28 were based on the exemption from investigation files – regardless of whether the case was closed, was still under investigation or had become cold decades ago.

Bonfield was the main architect behind the law on open meetings of the state in 1978 and helped legislators to write or change other public transparency measures.

"It seems to me that once the investigation is no longer running, that exemption will be terminated functionally," Bonfield said.

Evans, from the information board, states that video images are generally part of the public registers according to the Iowa law. He noted that practices to release police video in other states have been important in helping police appraisal after intense and sometimes deadly confrontations with the public.

Randy Evans (Photo: especially for the register)

"Video technology has been sold to city councils and supervisors across the state as a way to improve public accountability, but in some situations, when the images may not be as lucrative as law enforcement, it does not happen," said Evans.

Not everyone agrees that the new interpretation is against the Iowa law.

Polk County District Court Judge Robert Blink in 2016, for example, ruled that the state law allows continued confidentiality.

That statement came in Timothy Wayne Allen's attempt to review the data relating to four Iowa killings from the 1970s regarding young women. Three of the four cases remain unresolved.

Allen, of Ankeny, argued that routine public records could be released if they were not part of an ongoing investigation, which he said was a lengthy exercise under Iowa's open archives.

But Blink said that the placement of a comma in the terms of the statute means that only e-mail and telephone bills from law enforcement agencies must be released after the conclusion of an investigation.

Allen, a former homicide detective in New Orleans, said the FBI had sent him dozens of documents about the Iowa cases after filing a similar registration request with that agency.

"If the FBI can provide me with responsive documents," Allen said, "why can not the DCI?" (The Criminal Investigation department is part of the public security department.)

"There is something clear, fundamentally wrong in the way they apply this exemption."

Read it yourself: Iowa Code 22.7: Confidential files.

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