ARKANSAS (KSLA) - Multiple ArkLaTex law enforcement agencies rejected a request for public documents disclosing their officers' and deputies' work histories.
Others complied with the request while several others never responded.
In the investigative project Behind the Badge, KSLA New 12 tried to see who the officers are on the streets in ArkLaTex communities.
The project started by sending a request to all the law enforcement agencies in the ArkLaTex asking for the work history of all officers and deputies.
Of the 26 agencies in Southwest Arkansas, these 10 complied right away:
- Miller County Sheriff’s Office
- Fouke Police Department
- Lafayette County Sheriff’s Office
- Columbia County Sheriff’s Office
- Magnolia Police Department
- Southern Arkansas University DPS
- The University of Arkansas at Hope Police Department
- Ashdown Police Department
- Dierks Police Department
- Mineral Springs Police Department
"Part of our process is we want to be a transparent agency; we don't have anything to hide," Miller County sheriff''s Chief Deputy Mike McQuerrey said.
Such transparency helps foster a positive relationship with the people they serve, he added.
"Sometimes we make mistakes, and sometimes we don't. Sometimes there's a perception that sometimes may be wrong," McQuerrey said.
"Through a history of working well together and building that trust with the news media, then they feel free to come and work with us to find out what the actual truth of the incident is."
They also have a responsibility to protect their officers, McQuerrey said. That's why they took out personal information that he says the public doesn't have a right to.
"They have come to work for an administration and they expect us to come take care of them while they take care of the community."
This is important, he said, especially now with the national discussion of issues with policing and some members of the community not being fans of law enforcement.
While an officer is a public servant while at work, he or she also is a private citizen, McQuerrey said.
"And maintaining that privacy and allowing them to be a private citizen in the community, as well as that public official is extremely important for anyone to want to be in this line of work."
Many agencies rejected the initial request for the records, saying they could only give the documents to "citizens" of the state.
"That interpretation of the statute is contrary to Arkansas law," a KSLA News 12 attorney said in a letter.
KSLA News 12 has its office in Louisiana. Part of Southwest Arkansas is in its coverage area.
Four other agencies that complied after getting a letter from KSLA News 12 attorneys are the:
- Stamps Police Department
- Lewisville Police Department
- Hope Police Department
- Prescott Police Department
The letter cited different rulings in favor of the agencies giving the documents.
Robert Steinbuch, a law professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, said the only way an agency can deny a request is if there is a specific exemption or constitutional protection.
"Otherwise, they are compelled by law and it is part of their job function to supply those records."
Four agencies that rejected KSLA News 12's records request are:
- Texarkana, AR Police Department
- Nevada County Sheriff’s Office
- Nashville Police Department
- University of Arkansas-Cossatot Police Department
Here is a breakdown of who was transparent, and who denied the request. Explore this map to see how transparent law enforcement agencies in the ArkLaTex are(tap to interact).
Some agencies, including the Texarkana, Ark., Police Department, claimed the work history documents were part of private personnel files and unavailable to the public.
"In some states, there are large personnel record exemptions," said Steinbuch. "Arkansas is not one of those."
There also can be exceptions for personal records that disclose private information, the attorney added.
"Too often, state agencies and local agencies like to say, 'Oh, well, everything's private.' Quite the contrary. The courts have made abundantly clear that that privacy standard is exceedingly narrow."
Information considered private includes Social Security numbers, home addresses and medical histories.
"But most of the materials in personnel records are not private,, plain and simple," Steinbuch said.
"One might not want them disclosed, that's not the same as private."
Waldo Police Department provided the wrong documents.
And the following seven agencies never responded to KSLA News 12's request:
- Bradley Police Department
- Taylor Police Department
- Hempstead County Sheriff’s Office
- Little River County Sheriff’s Office
- Howard County Sheriff’s Office
- Sevier County Sheriff’s Office
- DeQueen Police Department
They should have responded because these agencies are paid for through taxpayer money and are essentially working for the people, Steinbuch said.
He did clarify that doesn't mean the people can control them.
"But it does mean that you, as a citizen, and the press, as representatives of the citizens, can go out and get information on the operation of each of these agencies and then make rational decisions in electing government officials." the attorney said.
- Panola County Sheriff’s Office
- Panola College
- Linden, TX Police
- New Boston, TX Police
- Harrison County Sheriff’s Office
- Texarkana, Texas Police
- Marshall Police
- Cass County Sheriff’s Office
STILL WAITING ON DOCUMENTS
- Carthage, TX Police
- Tatum, TX Police
- Waskom, TX Police
COMPLIED RIGHT AWAY
- Haughton Police Department
- Bossier City Police Department
- Oil City Police Department
- Webster Parish Sheriff's Office
- Dixie Inn Police Department
- Minden Police Department
- Sarepta Police Department
- Sibley Police Department
- Springhill Police Department
- Homer Police Department
- Sabine Parish Sheriff's Office
- Natchitoches Sheriff's Office
- Natchitoches Police Department
- Gibsland Police Department
- Louisiana Tech University Police Department
- Louisiana State University Police Department
- Northwestern University Police Department
COMPLIED AFTER LETTER FROM ATTORNEY
- Greenwood Police Department
SENT THE WRONG THING
- Mooringsport Police Department
- Plain Dealing Police Department
- Benton Police Department
- Shreveport Police Department (*did not respond to amended request)
- Vivian Police Department
- Cotton Valley Police Department
- Haynesville Police Department
- Mansfield Police Department
- Florien Police Department
- Many Police Department
- Zwolle Police Department
- Ringgold Police Department
- Grambling State University Police
- Centenery College Campus Police
- Southern University at Shreveport Campus Police
REJECTED THE REQUEST
- Caddo Parish Sheriff's Department
- Bossier Parish Sheriff's Office
- Claiborne Parish Sheriff's Office
- DeSoto Parish Sheriff's Office
- Red River Parish Sheriff's Office
- Bienville Parish Sheriff's Office
KSLA News 12 still is working on getting the records from the law enforcement agencies that rejected or did not respond to the station's initial requests.