Law enforcement an exception to public records openness


For my latest assignment in News Reporting and the Internet, I picked a candidate for local office and checked his background through a list of online resources and databases. At first I thought to myself, “This is easy and fun,” but easy was the last thing it was.

For the candidates who aren’t being heavily followed by the media or are doctors, lawyers, and public figures – finding information is quick and easy … if you know where to look.

But, checking the background of a law enforcement officer is virtually impossible.

There are two words to describe it: Good luck.

When I found out the my local candidate was involved in law enforcement, I nearly cringed. And he isn’t just some rookie police officer, he is a former Florida Highway Patrol state trooper, Officer of the Month, Officer of the Year, police detective, and now, part of the General Investigations Unit.

After finding these details out, that was almost the end of my search.

Law enforcement officials are the exception to the infamous rule: You can find anything in public records.

Think again.

In order to keep themselves and their loved ones out of harm’s way, their privacy is protected by not leaving any sort of digital print.

If it wasn’t for campaign websites and social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter, I don’t think I would have ever known much about my candidate to begin with. Even online newspapers’ archives didn’t have any personal information.

Although I understand the reasoning behind keeping law enforcement officials personal lives private, this is a challenge for journalists trying to report facts in the public record.

If journalists have no way of getting access to personal information regarding law enforcement officials, then who will?

Once candidates becomes elected and considered legitimate public figures, their secrets and personal information comes pouring out.

And this makes it easier for journalists and the public.

Even if you don’t spoon feed us the facts, put them somewhere where we can find. And, we will.

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