weather icon Clear

Long-public Nevada arrest database made secret after RJ request

Updated March 15, 2018 - 7:46 pm

A database of Nevada arrest records that was open to public inspection for decades has been made secret by a new state law.

The Nevada Department of Public Safety, which collects the information from law enforcement agencies across the state, won approval of the new law after the Las Vegas Review-Journal requested arrest and conviction records last year.

In May, DPS submitted an amendment to Assembly Bill 76, a measure to update rules for Nevada’s main repository of criminal history information such as arrests and convictions. The amendment prohibited releasing to the media any personal identifying information, such as names and dates of birth. The change, which took effect two months ago, allows the disclosure of identifying information only if media requesters ask for the records of a specific person.

It is unclear whether the new law will permit the release of data for certain offenses, such as all homicide arrests made in a given year, with only the names of arrestees removed.

Stephen Larrick, director of state and local programs for the Sunlight Foundation, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit that advocates for open government, said the Legislature violated the spirit of Nevada’s Public Records Act by shielding the records.

“The fourth estate has the right to information relevant to public discourse — including information about the criminal history of individuals — and needs expedient access to such records, sometimes in bulk, in order to hold government accountable,” he said.

DPS declined to comment on the law and its reason for seeking the change.

The public’s right to know about the workings of government is enshrined in Nevada’s public records law. The law’s opening language says it was enacted “to foster democratic principles by providing members of the public with access to inspect and copy public books and records to the extent permitted by law.”

Review-Journal Managing Editor Glenn Cook said access to a fully transparent arrest database that includes the names of those arrested is a vital public tool.

“These records could be used to assess how often police had arrested repeat offenders before they were finally convicted. That could include getting the full arrest records of drunken drivers, killers or child abusers,” Cook said. “This data would shed light not only on the criminal histories of individuals but, more importantly, the performance of our police and courts.”

‘I don’t see any justification’

Nevada Press Association Executive Director Barry Smith said he was not aware of the specific wording in the bill limiting what information reporters can receive and believes the law needs to be changed.

“Everything in there is a public record,” he said. “I don’t see any justification for trying to withhold the information.”

At a hearing on the amendment before the Nevada Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Mindy McKay, Records Bureau Chief for DPS, said the amendment was prompted by a Review-Journal request for the data. McKay said it was problematic to release the criminal history database because it often lacked records about the outcomes of arrests and could be used to paint an incomplete background on innocent people.

“That seems more like a flaw in their database than a reason to withhold the information,” Smith said of the rationale for suppressing arrest records because of missing information. “Someone gets arrested 12 times, but never convicted — What’s going on there?”

McKay also noted the Legislature’s efforts to help people whose past criminal problems harm their ability to find jobs or housing. McKay said the new law would “ensure the protection of an individual’s privacy and protect against unauthorized dissemination.”

‘An arrest doesn’t mean anything’

Democratic state Sen. Tick Segerblom, who chaired the hearing that addressed the DPS amendment, said he supported disclosing the names and records of convicted offenders but opposed releasing any information about those who had been arrested without conviction. “Given our presumption of innocence, an arrest doesn’t mean anything,” Segerblom said.

“If you could use the arrest without divulging the name of the person, that might be a compromise,” he said.

“To help you guys out, I think we need to go back and figure out a way you can have access so you can do statistical analysis, without having access to the name and arrest record of everybody who has been arrested,” he said.

Holly Welborn, policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, was present at the hearing for a different matter and was surprised by the proposed changes.

“There is public interest in needing access to the data on arrests and demographic information,” she said at the hearing.

“Of course, it was a red flag, because we wanted the press to have access for data purposes,” she said in a phone interview.

After the hearing, Welborn worked with DPS on the language that ultimately was enacted.

“Sometimes we don’t have the opportunity to work out these issues,” Wellborn said, noting that the changes were proposed a month before the Legislature adjourned. “We thought we had come to a consensus on accessing this criminal history information without violating confidentiality,” she said.

“It’s critical to democracy and accountability that the press be able to access information. If the press is unable to access critical information, we want to fix that,” Wellborn said.

Contact Alexander Cohen at acohen@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0261. Follow @capitolmuckrakr on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Politics Videos
The Right Take: Biden's Racially Questionable Comments
Joe Biden has uttered racially charged statements for years. Now that he’s the frontrunner for the Democrat presidential nomination, he may finally face prolonged scrutiny for them.
Christopher Rufo Discusses Homelessness In The USA - VIDEO
Christopher Rufo discusses homelessness in the United States and how politicians can work to improve conditions for those with drug addictions.
Clark County 2019 Election Results - Video
The 2019 Elections wrap up in Clark County including an upset in the Boulder City Mayor race.
Olivia Diaz talks about her win in Ward 3 - VIDEO
Las Vegas City Councilwoman-elect Olivia Diaz talks about her election win in Ward 3 and what lies ahead for her.
Greene discusses Read by 3 and Opportunity Scholarships - VIDEO
The Nevada Legislative Session is over and the results are mixed for Nevada students, according to Tom Greene, Senior regional legislative director, Excel in Ed in Action.
Bernie Sanders visits Las Vegas
Sen. Bernie Sanders made a stop at Roy W. Martin middle school on Thursday, during his campaign trail.
Kamala Harris campaigns in Las Vegas
Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris castigated President Donald Trump’s merit-based immigration plan, saying it was “short-sighted” and overlooked the cultural significance of family, during a campaign stop in Las Vegas. “We cannot allow people to start parsing and pointing fingers and creating hierarchies among immigrants,” Harris told Asian Pacific Islander leaders at a Chinatown restaurant, one of two appearances she made Thursday.
The Right Take New Education Funding Plan - VIDEO
On Monday, Senate Education Committee chair Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, released a new education funding formula. For years, many Democrat politicians have criticized the current education funding formula, called the Nevada Plan. They claim it’s old and outdated. Their biggest beef is that it doesn’t allocate more money for students who are English Language Learners or live in poverty. The theory is that it’s harder to educate those students and so they need additional services, which costs additional money.
Kamala Harris campaigns in Nevada
California Senator Kamala Harris meets with One APIA Nevada, a nonprofit organization that advocates for policies empowering Asian Pacific Islander Nevadans. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Ben Carson talks housing (Audio only)
Ben Carson discusses housing with the Review-Journal editorial board on Thursday. (Audio only)
Ben Carson visits the RJ (Full Audio Only)
Ben Carson discusses housing with the Review-Journal editorial board on Thursday. (Audio only)
Former Vice President Joe Biden campaigns in Nevada
After campaigning at the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District Council 16 in Henderson, former Vice President Joe Biden spoke with the Review-Journal.
Student serenades Mayor Carolyn Goodman at swearing in
Students from the school she founded, The Meadows School, serenaded Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman during a swearing in ceremony for her third and final term. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Al Gore Speaks At UNLV About Climate Change - Video
Former Vice President of the United States Al Gore talks to an audience at UNLV about the effects of Climate change and how to switch to renewable sources of energy.
Forum on Wages and Working People Highlights - VIDEO
Presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren, Beto O'Rourke, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Julian Castro, and John Hickenlooper speak in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Nevada Politics Today Valerie Weber - VIDEO
Valerie Weber sits down with Victor Joecks to discuss her policies and why she is running for Ward 2 of the Las Vegas City Council.
Cory Booker speaks at UNLV
US Senator Cory Booker speaks at UNLV during a Young Democrats meet and greet on Thursday, April 18, 2019. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
May-Brown describes why some with disabilities need the subminimum wage - VIDEO
Eliminating the subminimum wage will end training and work opportunities for some members of the disabled community. Instead of doing something productive, they would be relegated to adult day care. That’s according to Tracy May-Brown, Opportunity Village’s director of advocacy, board and government relations.
Commission’s decision will delay Red Rock Canyon development
The Clark County Commission Wednesday rejected a developer’s request to approve a preliminary plan for 3,000 homes overlooking Red Rock Canyon before a federal agency grants permission for a roadway leading to the site.
Clark County commissioner calls on landlords to bring properties up to code
Clark County Commissioner Tick Segerblom has called on landlords in older parts of the valley to bring their properties up to code and keep them well-maintained or face the prospect of inspections, fines and citations. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Harry Reid speaks out against anti-Semitism
Unnerved by the rise in anti-Semitic hate speech and the general pervasiveness of bigotry, including in Nevada, former U.S. Sen. Harry Reid organized an educational forum at UNLV on Thursday as part of his call to unite people against it. (Shea Johnson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
President Trump speaks to the Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas
President Donald Trump spoke at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s National Leadership Meeting in Las Vegas and updated on Israeli relations. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Trump says border wall will have 'hundreds of miles' built by end of next year
President Donald Trump spoke at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s National Leadership Meeting in Las Vegas and discussed the progress of the border wall and the current relations there. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Protesters disrupt Trump's speech
Just as President Donald Trump started to make his opening remarks during his appearance at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s National Leadership Meeting, protesters disrupted his speech. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Roerink On The Problems With Taking Water From Eastern Nevada - Video
The Southern Nevada Water Authority wants to take billions of gallons of water that doesn’t exist from Eastern Nevada via a pipeline that would cost ratepayers $15 billion. Doing so would devastate the wildlife and people who live there. That’s according to Kyle Roerink, executive director of the Great Basin Water Network, which opposes the pipeline.
Las Vegas Election Night Wrap-Up
The Review-Journal's Politics and Government Editor, Steve Sebelius, wraps up election night. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Olivia Diaz Speaks To Ward 3 Supporters After Primary Election - Video
Olivia Diaz speaks to her supporters at a election party after results started coming in for the Ward 3 primaries.
Oscar Goodman Speaks On Behalf Of Mayor At Primary Win (edited)
Oscar Goodman spoke Tuesday night on behalf of his wife, Carolyn, who won the mayoral primary election. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Oscar Goodman Speaks On Behalf Of Mayor At Primary Win (Full)
Oscar Goodman spoke Tuesday night on behalf of his wife Carolyn, who won the mayoral primary election. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Gun Debate Shows Limits Of Government - Video
On Monday, the Assembly and Senate Judiciary Committees held a joint hearing on Assembly Bill 291. It would ban bump stocks and allow local governments to pass additional restrictions on firearms.
Lucy Flores speaks out about Biden incident
Former Nevada assemblywoman, Lucy Flores, expresses her feelings about an incident with former Vice President Joe Biden in 2014. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @Vegas88s
Harry Reid takes the stand in injury lawsuit
Former U.S. Sen. Harry Reid took the stand on Thursday in the product liability lawsuit brought against the makers of a resistance exercise band that Reid blames for blinding him in one eye.
Nevada gets $3M in settlement for ITT students

Attorney General Aaron Ford announced his office has reached a settlement with Student CU Connect CUSO, a company that offered loans for students attending ITT Tech that Ford called abusive.