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Last updated 2:36AM ET
March 5, 2021
Changes to Alabama Crime Reports Having Impact on Public Information
(APR - Alabama Public Radio ) - A policy change by the Alabama Criminal Justice Information Center Commission removed victims' names from the front of police incident reports, making that and other identifying information confidential.

The new forms became optional in November 2006 but all agencies will be required to use them starting July 1st. The change already is having an impact when it comes to the public's right to know.

In Mobile, for example, Brenda Surrett called the Press-Register last summer after her nephew died in a Prichard car crash. Surrett was shocked that the newspaper's story on the wreck didn't identify him and that no reporter had contacted his family.

The Mobile newspaper would have identified the nephew, Daniel Miller, in the story, if only it had been able to find his name.

While some agencies have still been cooperative about providing the information, which the policy change by the Information Center Commission allows them to do if desired, others have used the new rules to keep even the most basic details from the public even though that goes against the intent of the change.

Birmingham media attorney Gilbert Johnston says it's regrettable that as a matter of policy the state has taken a position that information about important events has to be hidden from the media and therefore the public.

Several public hearings were held before the policy change, which made Alabama one of a handful of states that don't consider the names of victims to be part of the public record.

Most of those in attendance were law enforcement officers and victims' advocates who supported the move, although news organizations spoke out against it.

As the commission's Uniform Crime Reporting Program Manager, Becki Goggins oversees the creation of incident report forms that law enforcement agencies use. It was her department that suggested changes be made after they began fielding calls on the issue.

Goggins says there were some agencies that were no longer giving out the front page of the forms. Officials thought the agencies had a point and, Goggins says, that's what kind of started this.

Proponents of the change argued that having victim's information on the front of the form made them susceptible to identity theft and stalkers, or lawyers and alarm companies that would often scour police reports in search of new clients and customers.

But both Goggins and victim's advocate Miriam Shehane said they did not know of a specific case where criminals used police reports to steal someone's identity.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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