ANOTHER VIEWPOINT: Address potential unintended consequences in Indiana’s police log bill

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South Bend Tribune

On first glance, it’s hard to argue with the premise of Senate Bill 117, which would protect records and personal information for minors under the age of 18 who are alleged victims of crimes.

The bill would “exempt the records and personal identifying information of minors on police logs for any public access,” the bill’s author, Sen. Kyle Walker, R-Lawrence, said, noting that it’s “supported by a wide variety of cities and towns across the state, many law enforcement professionals.”

SB 117 received a hearing and an 11-0 vote of support from the House Veterans Affairs and Public Safety Committee on Tuesday.

But despite the honorable intentions cited by its supporters, the bill could have some unintended consequences, which legislators said they will address.

The Hoosier State Press Association, which represents Indiana newspapers, expressed its concerns at Tuesday’s hearing. Steve Key, HSPA executive director and general counsel, said he is concerned the bill could limit reporting on court proceedings, where names of minors may need to be redacted from public records.

And Key cites the example of the police showing up at a scene where a mother is dead, with a father and son missing. Would this bill prevent the police from putting out a photo of the child, asking the public if they’ve seen him or her? “I don’t think the intent was to tie the hands of law enforcement,” he said.

Committee chair Rep. Randy Frye asked that Walker, Rep. Steve Bartels, the bill’s House sponsor, legislative services staff and Key work to fix any issues with the bill.

Key hopes for modifications that will give police some discretion on whether minors’ names are included in police logs.

Virtually all news organizations have standards on naming children involved in crimes, generally naming defendants only in cases where their cases are moved to adult court. When it comes to victims, newspapers take into account a variety of considerations before printing names. Victims of sexual crimes, for example, are not named. Names will also be withheld if there are safety considerations, such as further danger to the victim.

We believe SB 117 is not needed, that the status quo protects the rights of victims and the public alike. But as the bill looks likely to win approval, we hope that changes are made to address the valid concerns raised.