MILTON, Wis. (AP) – Officials in one southern Wisconsin city have directed local police to stop blacking out certain information from police reports, saying the city needs to err on the side of openness.
The Milton City Council approved an ordinance Wednesday directing police to stop redacting people’s addresses, ages and other personal information before making police reports available to the public, the Janesville Gazette reported.
Many Wisconsin cities have made a practice of redacting that information for fear of liability under the federal Driver Privacy Protection Act. A federal appeals court in Chicago ruled in 2012 that a parking ticket placed on an Illinois resident’s car violated the act by revealing personal information, including the man’s Social Security number.
Milton’s insurers favor redacting police reports, but City Administrator Jerry Schuetz said the practice sidesteps Wisconsin’s open-records laws. Schuetz cited a March ruling by a St. Croix County judge who said the federal court ruling does not directly apply to requests made under Wisconsin’s open records law.
“Our finances are a matter of public record, as is the work done by our employees in all departments. Providing the public with as much information as possible is the legislative intent of the Wisconsin Open Records Law,” Schuetz said in his recommendation to the city council.
The city council voted unanimously to have police stop redacting records being released under the open records law.
“I have difficulties having an insurance company tell us how open and transparent our own government should be,” Alderwoman Anissa Welch said.
Fines for violating the Driver Privacy Protection Act can run as much as $2,500, while violations of the state open records law cost only $100. But Schuetz noted the city would have to pay $25,000 in fines before its insurance kicked in. He also said it could cost thousands of dollars to redact reports in response to the 50 to 150 open records requests received each year.