Student pushes for records access
Safety director withholds log entries from campus newspaper
MISSOURI — A reporter for the Central Missouri State University newspaper in Warrensburg noticed last spring hundreds of missing entries in the campus police file, from which the newspaper routinely compiles a summary of campus crime.
While investigating reports of two local robberies, the reporter for The Muleskinner noticed hundreds of other police log entries were not included in the police report file.
Reports of six campus burglaries during spring break were also not available.
Darin Sparks, news editor at The Muleskinner, said it took three weeks for the police to make the reports of the six burglaries available to the public, and that was only after the newspaper requested for the information.
“We get only the reports the police give,” Sparks said. “And we print everything that they give us.”
Since the campus crime reporter did not receive a complete record of incidents, the newspaper could not provide an accurate and timely summary of campus crime, Sparks said.
“I don’t think there’s a big conspiracy,” he said. “We’ve heard that there are rapes on campus. In the last 10 years, we’ve only had two rapes reported and that was in 1995 after we pursued it.”
But Jim Huff, director of public safety at CSMU, said the campus police were in compliance with the state sunshine law. Huff said the police keep cards, similar to a police blotter, where they write down every request for service.
If the police determine a crime was committed, the officer writes a report, Huff said. However, if no crime was committed, the request for service is filed separately and is not made available to the public.
“We don1t routinely let people look at records not a police report,” Huff said.
When asked why request entries were not made public along with the crime reports, Huff said the office did not want the public to lose or misplace files.
However, when The Muleskinner asked for copies of the request for service cards, Huff told the newspaper that under the Missouri Sunshine Law, the police could charge the newspaper for the staff time and copying fees that it would take to compile the entries.
Huff told the newspaper it would cost $2.50 per requested entry and an additional $206 upfront for staff fees. The newspaper subsequently asked for a fee waiver and was denied.
“They get the incidents reports that we can disclose under the state sunshine law. I can1t produce a report where none exist,” Huff said. “The vast majority of what officers do does not generate a report and that’s what’s made available to the student lab newspaper.”
The newspaper staff argued it was unable to fulfill its goal of providing “a weekly summary of crimes reported and arrests made” without a complete list of incidents.
Sparks wrote a letter in May to the Department of Education about the 3,000 missing request entries. He has received no response yet, but said he plans to continue pursuing the matter.
“[The campus police] want to make CMSU a safe campus, and I think it is a safe campus,” Sparks said. “I don’t think that all 3,000 requests are actual crimes, but I know some of them were actual crimes.”
Fall 1998, reports