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Agency withholds data about police certification, employment history from journalists

After a journalist requested police certification and employment history data from Nevada, the agency handling that data denied their request.

Last year, journalists with Big Local News, part of Stanford University’s Journalism and Democracy Initiative, sought police certification data from every state in the country. The project aims to make this data more easily available to journalists seeking it in the future.

In January, one of those journalists requested officer certification and employment history data from Nevada Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST), which oversees the training and certification of police officers in the state.

The agency denied their request.

According to another journalist that worked to coordinate the appeals in states that rejected journalists’ requests for the data, the Invisible Institute, a nonprofit journalism organization based in Chicago, also requested the same data in 2019.

Nevada POST denied the Invisible Institute’s request for employment history, but sent a snapshot of all officers employed at that time and officer certification data, according to the journalist and documents obtained by the Review-Journal.

When asked, the agency’s executive director, Michael Sherlock, said there was no change in the agency’s policy for releasing certification data.

“The confusion is when the request is for employment history or other information and the privacy interest outweighs the public need to know,” Sherlock said in an email. “We recently looked to our legal advisors to clarify that and as such have simply ensured that we are following the legal advice given.”

Sherlock said the agency does not release information like employment history at the direction of their legal advisors.

Review-Journal Chief Legal Officer Benjamin Lipman said the idea that anything related to personnel or employment status is exempt from Nevada public records law is “100 percent false.”

“Simply because it’s related to personnel does not mean it is subject to withholding,” Lipman said. “Number two, the law in Nevada is clear that even if there is some information in a record that legitimately can be kept secret, the rest of the record still has to be turned over. That legitimately confidential information, again if there is any to begin with, can be redacted. But the rest of the information needs to be provided.”

Review-Journal Executive Editor Glenn Cook said using a small piece of confidential information to justify full denial of public records is a common tactic of public entities in Nevada.

These denials are consistent, despite wins in the state Supreme Court that prove the law says otherwise, including a ruling from March that found the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department broke the law by denying documents surrounding an investigation into a highway patrol officer.

“It’s incredibly disappointing and not surprising that POST would approach this records request in this manner,” Cook said. “Behavior like this is exactly why we launched the What Are They Hiding column.”

The “What Are They Hiding?” column was created to educate Nevadans about transparency laws, inform readers about Review-Journal coverage being stymied by bureaucracies, and shame public officials into being open with the hardworking people who pay all of government’s bills. Were you wrongly denied access to public records? Share your story with us at whataretheyhiding@reviewjournal.com.

Contact Mark Credico at mcredico@reviewjournal.com. Follow him on Instagram @writermark2.

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