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Paper fights police on open records

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The Ellis County Press
ITALY - Several police departments have either refused to hand over public arrest records, or are reluctant to do so until The Ellis County Press applied pressure to obtain the records.

Italy's police chief, C.V. Johns, said he was 'uncomfortable' with publicizing the information that includes the dates of incidents, ages of suspects, their race and the crimes committed and arresting officer's name.

Only after ECP Publisher Charles Hatfield contacted Italy PD did the city arrange to have the records sent, but as of press time, there still had been no records sent. Chief Johns asked the reporter why she told the publisher he was rude to her and told her the reports would come in soon.

'We're putting these cities on notice that refusal to hand over what belongs to the public will be met with action afforded under the Texas Open Record Act,' said Hatfield.

In Red Oak, the police department, which had routinely given the records, 'puts all of these obstacles in the way for us to get the arrest reports,' Hatfield said.

'It shouldn't take a call to the mayor and city councilmen to get their police department to comply with Texas laws. We're constantly being given the run-around, but rest assured, we will fight back with open records complaints to the attorney general's office if we have to.'

When this reporter informed the Italy chief that refusal to hand over arrest records was violating public information laws, the chief finally relented.

In Hutchins, north of Ellis County, two requests were sent recently seeking their arrest information, but to no avail.

Normally, open records requests are sent to governmental entities and by law, a local agency or governing body has 10 days to respond to the request.

When it comes to arrest records, however, most agencies make it a routine each week to send their arrests and incidents.

'This can all be avoided if these agencies would instruct their officers to not only swear to the Constitution, but to read it,' Hatfield said.

'Our freedom of the press is being limited by these local police departments because they don't know the laws.

'And these are the same guys hired to supposedly enforce the law?'

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