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11.18.2004

Denial of Access

I can't do my job without records. Having access to them is important. I spend my days collecting records, most of which will never lead to anything. I mine them for the smallest piece of information, something that will hopefully lead me to a human source. And people are much more willing to talk to reporters than you might think.

Recently, I stumbled across a small notice that someone in town was transferring a liquor license. No big deal, until I mentioned it to someone who knew the owner of the license. Their response prompted me to look further -- I discovered he was transferring his license to a part of town that already had 8 bars in a 3 block area. I kept digging, and discoverd multiple liquor law violations, and several thousand dollars in fines on that one license. The most astonishing, his last bar garnered 90 police dispatches in about two year's time. With my reporting, the residents in that area are now fighting to keep at least one bar off their streets. The LCB recieved a record number of complaints about the license transfer.

All that came about because I had unhindered access to records and the cooperation of those keeping the records. Usually, special projects reporting like that is much more difficult. But they were willing to cooperate, in part because of the law, but also -- because they had no vested interest in the contents.

It's not so at Taylor. When it comes to their campus police reports, they seem to have great interest in keeping them secret. I'm surprised that no one but me wants to ask them why.

This is a detailed report from Indiana's public access counselor erroneously declaring Taylor's police force to be a private entity, even though they possess statutory police powers. Be clear about this, Taylor's police can arrest you and carry weapons, but you can't read their reports if they don't want you to. Grant County's sheriff's deputies have the exact same powers, but they're captured under the public access laws.

In short, the PAC is wrong. He rejected most of Ice Miller's woefully inadequate legal reasoning, but still fails to interpret the law correctly. The law says it's to be interpreted broadly, but he instead interpreted it narrowly. He prejudged Taylor as a private institution and then applied the provisions of the law -- having already decided the status of Taylor's police force.

It's clear to anyone reading, that Taylor's police force is firmly captured under the law's provisions. Taylor, Ice Miller and Michael Hurst (the PAC) are the only one's who can't seem to understand that.

This is one fight that is far from over. Far. There's a new public access counselor in the state now; hopefully she'll be able to interpret the law correctly.