An original post back in May 2015 highlighted the anomalies of public records, Freedom of Information and private college policing ( University Police Records Appeal by ESPN ). Asides from the fact FOI shouldn’t require a string of lawsuits the case remains a tribute to the tenacity and resilience of investigative journalism. The original piece centred around the judicial system and prominent athletes. Incident reports were requested from over a five year period . Police departments were originally contacted at ten universities. All were forthcoming save the only private entity, that being Notre Dame.
After being rebuffed by Notre Dame Paula Lavigne sought opinion from the Public Access Counselor. The conclusion was that the police department of Notre Dame should be subject to the Indiana’s open law on public records. Following a further snub ESPN sued in state court for access. The case put forward that the state grants the police department it’s powers and therefore it was and is a public agency. Unfortunately ESPN lost and while there were persuasive and compelling reasons why the statute should be amended Notre Dame’s police records remain peripheral to public records.
However the one case highlights how FOI legislature is subject to different anomalies from State to state. How private companies partnering with government on the one hand enjoy the powers typically reserved for government. Yet private companies seem to be able to extricate themselves from public records requests and FOI due to the unpredictable nature of court decisions. As shown by the ESPN case irrespective a second advisory opinion put forward that Notre Dame had likely violated the law. Do private agencies and colleges exploit and use statutory ambiguities to their advantage. The reluctance to submit to public records frustrates press and many advocates alike. While also considering private university and college police have authority to arrest and to employ lethal force yet are not always answerable to FOI laws.
Private college records in recent years has seen legislative action and/or legislature in a number of states. Signs of reform and progress in to closing loopholes moves at a painfully slow rate. Another bone of contention remains the jurisdiction and remit of campus police and boundaries. A DOJ report from 2015 confirms police at 38% of private universities and colleges are conferred full arrest powers. Armed police occupy 36% of those schools which confirms a 20% rise since 2005. Jurisdiction of some departments extends off campus. The extended patrol area of The University of Chicago extends some 6.5 sq miles and takes in 65,000 residents. Most have no connection to the university and represent the predominantly black south side.
The reason for the seemingly extended police powers was down to local residents requests. The requests seem to have been encouraged by an unreliable municipal police department. However Chicago is not alone and these “arrangements” have also manifested themselves in New Oirleans, Philadelphia and Detroit. However asides from the perceived benefits there remains an under current of long standing tension within neighboring communities. Students and residents alike have raised numerous concerns over racial profiling and disparity by university police.
The case against Notre Dame by ESPN hasn’t gone away. Following the dismissal of the suit an appeal was filed. The appeal has picked up support from the State Attorney General. The case has certainly attracted attention to the public records issue in a number of positives. A bill was passed last month in Indiana that will require private university police departments to be more transparent with their records.