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Pendulum: A loophole in the law: power without transparency

From The Pendulum (3/21/13): On March 8, the North Carolina Supreme Court made a decision that directly affects Elon University students. According to the ruling, private university campus police in North Carolina are effectively exempt from public records laws that require public records be disclosed in reasonable circumstances. This is a major loophole in the law.

Any member of the public can walk into a police station and request public records from state and local government bodies. All 50 states have public records laws to ensure these bodies remain transparent. An excerpt from the public record law of North Carolina reads, “The public records and public information compiled by the agencies of North Carolina government or its subdivisions are the property of the people. Therefore, it is the policy of this State that the people may obtain copies of their public records…”

The N.C. Supreme Court was split 3-3 on whether to affirm or reverse the Court of Appeals decision, which dictated that campus police are not public law enforcement agencies. Since the previous decision is left undisturbed, the appellate decision stands although no precedent was set.

The case got its start in 2011 when former Elon student Nick Ochsner requested the arrest records of a fellow Elon student for a report on Phoenix14. But Elon’s campus police withheld many details of the report, including the arrest narrative. He filed suit in Alamance County Civil Superior Court against Elon, but the judge found the Elon campus police complied with public records laws. Ochsner appealed to the North Carolina Court of Appeals, which found Elon’s police records are not public records and its campus police department is not a public law enforcement agency.

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Colin Donohue,
3/21/2013 8:44 AM