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More Wisconsin police reports redacted

Police reports for arrests, car accidents and crimes that take place in Wisconsin are becoming increasingly difficult to obtain. These documents are especially important to everyday drivers who may be involved in an auto accident and require an accident report for their insurance claim. A federal court of appeals ruling states law enforcement agencies cannot release information that has been gleaned through motor vehicle records. Consequently, more agencies are redacting important information in the interest of avoiding being sued.

Those who advocate open government say the interpretation of the court's ruling denies public oversight of law enforcement activities. The federal case involved a man who sued an Illinois village after a parking ticket was left on his car. Because the ticket listed his name, address, date of birth, driver's license number, gender and height, the man alleged the ticket violated the Driver's Privacy Protection Act, which requires states to obtain consent before they release a driver's information.

Citizens may still obtain complete accident reports from the State Department of Transportation. This method may take longer, however, because police departments have up to 10 days to submit reports to the state. Prosecutors may also still use names, dates of birth and addresses in complaints and online court records.

Wisconsin residents may find it increasingly difficult to obtain records that include information they may need in the event of car accidents or if a crime has taken place. This means that car accident victims may have a more difficult time receiving a police report which details what happened during the incident. Accident victims should first check with the jurisdiction in which the accident took place to determine whether the local police department has adopted the redaction policy.

Source: Insurance Journal, "Wisconsin Police Aggressive in Redacting Accident Reports", Dinesh Ramde and Todd Richmond, May 22, 2013

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