Appeals court denies Post-Gazette's attempt to get records on police officers

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The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court has denied a Post-Gazette request for the names of accredited municipal and state police officers, saying state officials wouldn’t be able to reliably redact officers on undercover assignments.

In a 6-1 decision  written by President Judge Dan Pellegrini, the court ruled that the Municipal Police Officers’ Education and Training Commission had successfully shown it would be difficult to protect undercover cops, as the state agency doesn’t keep tabs on covert investigations fielded by local departments.

The ruling overturns a decision by the state Office of Open Records, which had ordered state police to turn over the list but redact the names of undercover police officers.

The newspaper had asked for the names of all accredited officers to help with its routine coverage of police activities.

“The [Pennsylvania State Police] would be required to coordinate with more than 1,100 municipal law enforcement agencies throughout the Commonwealth, as only those local agencies maintain information relating to which officers are currently performing undercover and/or covert operations,” the judge wrote.

In a dissenting opinion, Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt wrote the state police are not obligated to redact names, but are merely given the option. And if the agency decides the black marker is necessary, it is not allowed to deny the request simply because it would be hard to fill.

“Redaction is a vehicle that advances greater disclosure, not less,” she wrote.


Andrew McGill: amcgill@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1496.

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