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Do police records compromise privacy of victims

Some police agencies do.  Some police agencies don’t.

And According to one Mid State Police chief, there is no law that mandates it gets done.

We’re talking about redacting private, sensitive information on police reports that any citizen can obtain.

The question is what information is necessary as part of the public document and what sensitive information, like social security numbers and driver’s license numbers should be kept private to help minimize incidents of identity theft.

When Connie Douglas and her sister got into a physical altercation at a Rutherford County Hospital, Smyrna police responded and made out an incident report.

“So I went to get a copy of the police report, and this is what I found,” Connie Douglas says with a glare in her eye.

The grandmother is holding her police report and pointing to the box where her social security number and name and date of birth are all prominently displayed.

“I don’t think that anyone should have access to my social security number except me.”

Douglas says she obtained her police report by going to Smyrna P.D. and paying 7 dollars. Not only was Douglas’ private information available, but so to was the private data of her sister, the person she claims allegedly assaulted her.

“So you are an alleged victim of assault, and police come and you feel like you were assaulted again by the police dept because they put in all your private info, is that true?”

The senior shakes her head emphatically.

“I thought it was private. I thought they were there to protect me, and it feels like to me they don’t protect me when they give my info out to anyone who wants it.”

I speak to Kathleen Calligan at the Better Business Bureau of Middle Tennessee. Calligan tells me that this is a very important story and issue that should be discussed seriously.  She tells me that identity theft is one of the biggest problems her agency faces. She says more agencies should redact private information and they should talk about doing it right now.

“I try and shred everything,” Douglas tells me. “I am very careful with my identity and not putting things in the trash. I watched your show, all that information that got recycled and people were getting it. I got a shredder, after that. I have been very protective of my identity since that story and now here it is you pay seven dollars and anyone can get it.”

I go to Smyrna P.D. and talk to Chief Kevin Arnold.

Arnold is a cop’s cop, who takes the time to meet with me on this issue despite the fact I call him out of the blue.

Standing in front of the police department he tells me about the Douglas report and the department’s policy.

“By state law we are not required to redact anything. But we do it as a service to the citizens to prevent anything from happening like what happened to this lady”

Chief Arnold tells me that none of Connie Douglas’ private information was redacted because it was her report, involving her case.
Had a stranger attempted to pay 7 dollars for the same report, the chief says, his clerks would have attempted to redact sensitive info.

“The policy is: if an individual comes into the lobby to request a report the social security number is redacted from the report. Is it done every time? I cannot guarantee that. Sometimes a clerk gets busy and a report does get out without the number being redacted.”

We do a cursory check of some middle Tennessee law enforcement agencies.

Chief Arnold tells me that he thinks Connie Douglas’ request is a legitimate one. He tells me that he is talking to his I.T. people to see if computer printouts can be automated to take the pressure off his clerks who are some times are overwhelmed by people needing to get police reports.