Last week, over the course of multiple phone conversations and an in-person meeting, the Independent’s own (unrelated) requests for initial incident reports from the Missoula Police Department were met with the following responses: Those reports aren’t released to the press; those reports are released for $20; those reports are released only if they’re requested by report number; those reports are released only if the requestor’s name is listed on the report.
“I’ve never had anybody complain or say that we weren’t giving out enough information,” says Lt. Jim Neumayer, of the different news organizations in town. In fact, he says, the Independent is the only organization that is not satisfied with their procedure. The Missoulian, TV stations, radio stations—“Everybody has been completely satisfied,” says Neumayer.
John Shontz, Freedom of Information attorney and attorney for Havre plaintiffs, disagrees.
“I’m not surprised that you’re having difficulty with the Missoula Police Department,” he says. Montana law is clear that initial incident reports must be released, says Shontz, but “the law enforcement community doesn’t particularly want to do that.”
The Missoulian has joined the suit as well.
“This appeared to be a fairly significant issue,” says Missoulian Editor Mike McInally. “Especially in the wake of [last year’s] Freedom of Information audit, and we think this case has a chance to really clarify some of the issues the FOI audit had raised.” Assistant Attorney General Pam Bucy says that ever since an audit of public records procedures last summer, the issue has been in the public eye.
“This issue is going to be well-litigated pretty quickly,” she says. In the meantime, the attorney general’s office is busy defining what information, exactly, should be included in these reports. Bucy should have a rule established in the next couple months. The rule will likely dictate that departments release more information than some are currently releasing, but less than plaintiffs might want, says Bucy. Once a rule is adopted, says Bucy, it would “go into effect immediately.”
The Independent has contributed financially to support the lawsuit.