This Sunshine Week, the Student Press Law Center wants to start a conversation about the dangers of secret police.
Executive Director Frank LoMonte has been outspoken about the need for open records laws to apply to private universities’ police forces.
In a Medium post, he shared a message he sent to the Indiana governor’s office, urging him to veto a bill that would close private campus police records while allowing small concessions like crime logs to be public. (The governor did veto the bill.)
“It is much more important that the public have access to the incident reports of crimes that do not result in arrests, because colleges have a well-documented history of sweeping even serious violent crimes into the impenetrable black box of campus discipline from which no information ever emerges — a process that routinely deals out penalties as lenient as an apologetic essay paper as punishment for rape,” LoMonte wrote. “Because the student conduct process is so opaque, the public must have some way of knowing whether colleges are whitewashing serious safety hazards through campus disciplinary channels. That can happen only with access to the police incident reports that HB 1022 will withhold from public view.”
He concluded: “‘Secret police’ belong in Russia, China and North Korea. They have no place in South Bend.”
In an article about the Indiana case that referenced the Stop Secret Police campaign, LoMonte said that “the only reason for colleges to fight so hard to withhold these police reports is that they don’t want the public to know how often crimes are happening on campus and not getting publicly disclosed today.”
LoMonte also told the Chicago Reporter that “once you take on the ultimate state power — the power to take someone’s freedom and potentially their life — you can’t claim to be doing private business anymore. And there is a compelling need for the public to oversee the use of that incredible power.”
LoMonte told the Columbia Journalism Review that the exemption for private universities’ police forces represents “an obvious hole in public-records access.” State legislatures, he said, need to clarify that disclosure is necessary. Otherwise, universities will not become more transparent, and the press and public won’t be able to hold them accountable — without access to records, he said, “we’re working on an honor system — we’re being asked to blindly trust.”