FOIA applies to police, too
The Charleston Police Department’s decision to withhold information about a Saturday shooting involving one of its officers suggests that law enforcement officials pick which laws to enforce — and which not to.
South Carolina law is clear: A law enforcement agency must release its crime reports, including supplemental documents, unless it can show that releasing them would interfere with a prospective police action.
Fortunately, the State Law Enforcement Division, which is handling the investigation, released on Tuesday all information sought by The Post and Courier.
But that doesn’t change the law requiring the CPD to have done so before then.
According to Jay Bender, attorney for the S.C. Press Association, “If CPD generated a report, you’re entitled to that report.” It doesn’t matter that SLED is investigating.
That resistance to being forthright by CPD — even withholding the names of the officer and suspect — temporarily cast a shadow on the department. But it turns out the officer involved was acting in a heroic manner.
The Charleston Police Department has made it a point to encourage members of the public to speak up if they know something about crimes that occur. Chief Greg Mullen has credited tips from the community with solving major cases.
But in this case, the department didn’t give people enough information even to know if they could be helpful.
It seems they are being told, “Tell us everything you know when we ask you, but we’ll tell you only what we want to when you ask.”
The Charleston Police Department should do its own examination of the state’s freedom of information law, and should resolve to mend its secretive ways.