Pa. open records advocates getting mixed results

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Officials must release the names of Pennsylvania's 22,000 certified police officers, the state Office of Open Records ruled earlier this week.

Siding with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which requested a statewide roster of municipal police officers from the Pennsylvania State Police in February and was turned down, the open government agency said security concerns aren't enough of a reason to keep the list secret.

"The position advanced by the State Police would effectively create a new class of public employees, the identity of which would be shielded from public scrutiny," the office wrote in a decision released Monday.

The ruling drew applause from open records advocates, who say secret identities are better suited to Batman than your borough police.

"We don't have a secret police force," said Melissa Melewsky, an attorney with the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association. "Police are critical and important in our society, and it's because they're so important that we have the need to know who they are."

The state police, who are responsible for certifying municipal police officers to carry firearms, had argued the Post-Gazette's request would give criminals a "one-stop reference" to assess the strength of individual departments. The list could also expose undercover officers, the state police said.

The open records office partially agreed on the second point, allowing the state police to redact the names of any officer currently involved in an undercover investigation. How the state would actually do that -- considering local police forces aren't exactly looping Harrisburg in on every covert operation -- is unknown.

A state police spokesman wouldn't comment on the office's decision, citing a possible appeal.

The victory came amidst a mixed bag of recent open record decisions, with the Office of Open Records and judges both granting and restricting public access in separate cases.

Earlier this week, a Commonwealth Court panel ruled against Gov. Tom Corbett, saying his office didn't give enough of an explanation why they redacted portions of his calendar and emails requested by The Associated Press. The governor's office said the entries detailed internal deliberations, which are exempted from disclosure under the law.

But a day later, another Commonwealth Court panel ruled that the numbers of government-issued phones were not public, even if they're used for government business.

Lawmakers are also expected to introduce amendments to Pennsylvania's right-to-know law, perhaps charging requesters a fee for access.

"I wish I could say there was a trend toward more openness, but watching what the courts are doing, I don't think that's the trend," Ms. Melewsky said.

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Andrew McGill: 412-263-1497 or


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