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  • Writer's pictureTom Kamenick

Record Lawsuit Seeks Basic Police Information from Wisconsin DOJ

The Badger Project and Invisible Institute sue for basic certification data

The Badger Project and Invisible Institute have sued the Wisconsin Department of Justice seeking access to the names and employment history of all certified law enforcement officers in the state.  The organizations are represented by the Wisconsin Transparency Project the University of Illinois First Amendment Clinic.  Most states release this information, and this suit follows successful litigation in California and Utah to obtain similar records.

The Badger Project is a nonpartisan journalism nonprofit that focuses on and investigates government, politics, and related matters in Wisconsin. Invisible Institute is a nonprofit public accountability journalism organization based in Chicago.  Both organizations have litigated cases seeking police records and written extensively about law enforcement issues, particularly the problem of “wandering officers” who jump agencies to avoid discipline.

In December, the organizations made a record request to the DOJ seeking its list of all certified law enforcement officers in the state.  Five months later, DOJ denied the request, claiming that releasing the information would somehow identify undercover officers, subject officers to harassment, and put them in danger.  But more than 30 states already make this information publicly available, without causing the problems DOJ claims would follow release.

Both organizations have reported on the lawsuit:

“Courts have ruled time and time again that speculative fears of harm do not justify withholding government records from the public,” said Tom Kamenick, president of the Wisconsin Transparency Project.  “Government officials must do more than merely claim that, hypothetically, something bad might happen if the records are released.  Rather, they must show that harm is likely to occur and sufficiently serious to overcome the presumption of access to government records.”

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