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Editorial: Police should reveal shooting victims' IDs

8:25 AM, Jan. 16, 2013  |  Comments
4 shot in Green Bay
4 shot in Green Bay: Green Bay Police Department Capt. Todd Thomas talks about the shooting near Walnut and Ashland streets Saturday, Jan. 5, 2013.
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Under Wisconsin's Open Records Law, all government records are presumed public, except for rare exemptions.

"The denial of public access generally is contrary to the public interest, and only in an exceptional case may access be denied," according to state statute. Further, the denial must include a public policy reason why the record is being withheld.

Government officials can't just say, for example, something is "under investigation." That's stating a fact; that's not stating a public policy reason.

Still, that's the answer Press-Gazette Media has been getting from the Green Bay Police Department in the case of a Jan. 5 shooting that injured four people.

The four suffered gunshot wounds about 12:15 a.m. Jan. 5 as they sat in a car behind 108 N. Ashland Ave. in Green Bay.

It has been 11 days since then, and the most the police department will say on the record is that details are being withheld because of "the ongoing and dynamic nature of this particular investigation."

That reason doesn't tell us or the public why the police department is holding onto the identification of the four victims, all males ages 17 to 23. We expect all investigations at some point are ongoing and dynamic, so that's basically saying the case is "under investigation."

"Unless there are really unusual circumstances, the public is entitled to know the identification of crime victims," according to Bob Dreps, a Madison attorney who has assisted Press-Gazette Media in open records cases.

The public has a right to know all about these types of shootings, including the names of the victims. The police department said that the shooting isn't believed to be random. That leads us to assume the shooter knew the victims, so releasing the names shouldn't hinder the department's ability to investigate the crime.

The state's Open Records Law isn't black and white. There is plenty of gray area where public officials must weigh whether public policy reasons outweigh the public's right to know. In this case, we don't know the public policy reasons for the denial of the records. In any case, the presumption should be that they're open records unless there's an explicit reason to keep them secret. So far, we haven't heard that from the police department.

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