Law Enforcement Perspectives on Public Access to Misconduct Records

56 Pages Posted: 26 Mar 2020 Last revised: 4 Nov 2021

See all articles by Rachel Moran

Rachel Moran

University of St. Thomas - School of Law (Minnesota)

Jessica Hodge

University of St. Thomas

Date Written: March 10, 2020

Abstract

Laws restricting public access to law enforcement misconduct records are the subject of national debate. Opponents of these laws argue that public access to law enforcement misconduct records is critical to holding officers accountable, while proponents claim that permitting public access violates privacy rights and endangers law enforcement officers. Neither side has much data to support its arguments.

This article summarizes the results of a research project conducted in the summer and fall of 2019, which surveyed hundreds of law enforcement administrators (primarily police chiefs and sheriffs) on their experiences with and attitudes toward disclosure of misconduct records. Several dozen administrators also participated in follow-up phone interviews. The project is, to the best of the authors’ knowledge after an extensive interdisciplinary literature review, the first systematic effort to gather data on the topic of how laws regulating public access to law enforcement misconduct records affect law enforcement agencies, officers, and the communities in which those officers work.

The results of the study are enlightening. While law enforcement unions typically portray officers as universally opposed to release of misconduct records, the administrators in this study were deeply divided on the topic. More administrators found public access to misconduct records beneficial to their departments and communities than harmful to their officers. Most of the benefits came in the form of improved community relations and public trust. The harms administrators did identify were largely reputational; very few provided support for the notion that public access to misconduct records endangers officers. Administrators also provided many suggestions for changes to existing records laws.

Keywords: Police, Police Accountability, Police Misconduct, Privacy, Transparency

Suggested Citation

Moran, Rachel and Hodge, Jessica P, Law Enforcement Perspectives on Public Access to Misconduct Records (March 10, 2020). 42 Cardozo Law Review 1237 (2021), U of St. Thomas (Minnesota) Legal Studies Research Paper No. 20-01, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3552012 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3552012

Rachel Moran (Contact Author)

University of St. Thomas - School of Law (Minnesota) ( email )

MSL 400, 1000 La Salle Avenue
Minneapolis, MN Minnesota 55403-2005
United States

Jessica P Hodge

University of St. Thomas ( email )

2115 Summit Avenue
AQU217
St. Paul, MN 55105
United States

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