Lack of government transparency puzzles

Before I get started saying what I really want to say, allow me to preface it by saying what I should say: I recognize that there are numerous law enforcement officers who do their job with dignity, respect and a genuine regard for the general public.

But then, there are the ones like I encountered while searching for public records from the University of Northern Colorado’s police department.

Let me walk you through the details.

I was doing research for the story regarding Devin Smith on the front page of this newspaper.

Part of that research involved seeking police reports from UNC, where Smith attended for a period of time.

The phone call went something like this:

‘Hello. I’d like to request police records for a Devin M. L. Smith, please,’

‘OK, no problem. There are two reports, and one will require a charge of $3.’

‘Not a problem. Thank you for your help.’

Apparently, UNC’s police department won’t email public records because of a ‘safety concern.’

Fine. We know people.

When we sent a messenger to the office of the police department, the records were sitting out in the open as if they were waiting for us. Strangely though, they had been stamped with the words, ‘DO NOT DISSEMINATE,’ in red ink.

Our liaison didn’t know the law well enough to know that it was illegal for them to withhold those reports.

What is the reason for this fundamentally contentious relationship that sometimes occurs between law enforcement and the media?

We represent the public. The average person off the street has the right, but maybe not the capacity, to obtain such records.

So we do it for them. In a way, we are an extension of the public.

Why would someone whose job is to protect said well-being go to such extraordinary lengths to keep a public record from becoming public property?

What stake does UNC have in protecting a student who is no longer enrolled there and was entangled in multiple criminal investigations, including a theft, when he was one of its students?

What does anyone have to gain by such an egregious violation of the law?

I’m certain not one of our readers, or a single member of the public, benefited at all.