FOI Policy Academy: Criminal Justice/Law Enforcement



Read: June 11, 2020 Statement on Law Enforcement Transparency and Accountability Issues

Unchecked law enforcement accountability can undermine a free and open society. From the riots in Ferguson, MO, Minneapolis, MN and scores of other U.S. cities, to protests after police shootings in Baltimore, Dallas, and Louisville, the issue of transparency in policing has heightened in recent years. 

The use of technology such as body cameras and flawed data used in proactive policing that discriminates against certain residents in communities challenge privacy and civil rights. Exempting files that should be public records, such as use of force and disciplinary actions prevent disclosure to the public creating a veil of silence and suspicion resulting in lack of trust and support between the police and the public. 

Recommendations that support innovation to enable responsible expansion of police transparency and accountability and making more trusted data available at the state, local and national levels to provide comparable information across police departments are generally ignored. 

The added lack of access to judicial records, incident reports and personnel information makes the criminal justice system one of the opaquest public institutions year after year, as reported by journalists in NFOIC’s National Open Government Survey.

Effective oversight of law enforcement requires meaningfully improving the flow of information to the public, both as a matter of law and as a matter of culture. More public oversight leads to better policing, which leads to better public safety and stronger communities. NFOIC strongly supports every state to enact reforms opening every aspect of the police misconduct oversight process to public scrutiny. These records are publicly accessible today in only a small minority of states, but should be made readily available –and thoroughly archived– everywhere, without delay.