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Friday, December 19, 2014

Ind. Gov't. - Public Access Counselor says Notre Dame police subject to public records law [Corrected]

This Sept. 15th ILB post quotes from a Sept. 14th South Bend Tribune story headed "Should Notre Dame police adhere to public records law?"

A long story today in the SBT, by Margaret Fosmoe, is titled "Notre Dame police subject to public records law, [PAC] opinion says." The story begins:

The University of Notre Dame’s Security Police department is a public law enforcement agency, with the same requirements to maintain and release public records as all other police agencies in the state, according to an opinion by Indiana’s public access counselor.

“The police force is established by the governing body of a private institution, but their powers come from the state of Indiana. I am not comfortable saying an organization can hide behind the cloak of secrecy when they have the power to arrest and create criminal records and exercise the state’s police powers,” wrote Luke Britt, an attorney who serves as Indiana’s public access counselor.

His formal opinion was released Thursday in a letter to Tribune Executive Editor Alan Achkar.

The Tribune’s complaint, filed last month, had stated in part: “The public has a right to know the details about crimes, accidents and other incidents that occur on a private university’s campus, which typically attracts large public crowds, sometimes numbering in the tens of thousands. Many of those people are not directly affiliated with the university but still rely on the university police for their safety.”

The university has a professional campus police force, with sworn officers who carry guns and have the power to make arrests and enforce state laws. But university officials have long maintained that Notre Dame’s status as private institution makes it exempt from the state’s public records law. * * *

Three previous public access counselors had issued opinions concluding a police force that answers solely to a private university is private, and thus not subject to the state’s public records law.

On Thursday, Britt, who became the public access counselor in 2013, took a different stance.

“The Notre Dame law enforcement agency is clearly operating under the color of the law, enforcing Indiana criminal code and not mere campus policy or disciplinary procedures,” Britt wrote. “They also have the authority to police the surrounding community. They even have a 911 dispatch.

“If a law enforcement agency has police powers, then they should be subject to the typical scrutiny given to traditional police forces. Police powers come from the state — they do not spring forth organically. University police hold themselves out as a law enforcement agency enforcing criminal code.”

ILB: The PAC opinion is not yet available.

This post has been corrected by a later post today.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on December 19, 2014 10:55 AM
Posted to Indiana Government