Last week the Indy printed an article about public access to criminal justice information (see “etc.,” Aug. 19, 2010). Reporter Jessica Mayrer had an interesting assignment, but was apparently constrained by time and space from giving the public an adequate primer on accessing criminal justice information from source agencies. Your readers should know that there are two types of criminal justice information, “Confidential” and “Public.” The Missoula Police Department (MPD) can only legally disseminate public criminal justice information under most circumstances and our state constitution gives considerable weight to issues of individual privacy. The sanctions against criminal justice agencies for improper dissemination equal or exceed those of failing to give proper access to public information.
Public criminal justice information access means that an agency such as the Missoula Police Department is required to make available for viewing during normal business hours any of certain documents it has created and stored. The only public information created and stored by the MPD are “initial offense reports” and “initial arrest records.” These reports and records are accessible to the public as required by law. Requests for copies of these reports are processed in as timely a manner as possible and the city does charge a fee of certain parties for certain reports. All other information is generally considered confidential and there are legal processes to secure that information if deemed proper by the courts.
Citizens can find additional information about how to view or receive public criminal justice information by visiting the city of Missoula website at www.ci.missoula.mt.us and looking under the “Services” tab for Police Department. Recent improvements to our website include links accessing daily online summaries (including maps) of crime activity going back seven days, unrestricted access to the MPD’s policy manual and a wealth of other information.
We appreciate Mayrer’s recognition that the MPD works well with local media to share information. It is a vital partnership that we view as critical to keeping the public informed and prepared. The MPD hopes to be as transparent as legally possible and wants to make sure the public is well versed in how to access information it is looking for. We also always welcome feedback about our delivery of law enforcement services in the Missoula community.
Chief of Police