The City of Aiken’s efforts to suspend certain police reports from public view is a blatant skirting of state law. This decision – outlined in a story published in Saturday’s Aiken Standard – stems from an alleged sexual assault that took place between two juveniles at a local middle school.
City officials have made it evident that they’re going to shelve police reports pertaining to minors as a result of the case. But in doing so, the City is showing us that it’s not fully invested in protecting the interests of the public, especially our children.
While it’s clear the name of a juvenile involved in such a case should be protected, the fact that a crime is committed and the accused is a juvenile should not be considered confidential information.
The section of South Carolina law pertaining to juvenile justice reads that “information identifying a child must not be open to public inspection, but the remainder of these records are public records.”
The language of the law should be clear to any public official. It plainly restricts only the names of those involved from being released, but the rest of the report is intended for public view.
Jay Bender, attorney for the S.C. Press Association, explained that while a name may be withheld, that fact shouldn’t influence law enforcement from providing the rest of the information about an alleged crime.
“A crime is a still crime. It’s neither juvenile or adult,” Bender said.
Concerns over the release of information shouldn’t diminish the fact there was a rumored sexual assault, but the point should still be stressed. The longer the City withholds such information, the longer they are breaking the law. Additionally, the longer information is concealed, the easier it is for the concerns of parents to mushroom.
Those concerns and suspicions easily turn to the idea law enforcement is trying to protect someone suspected of a wrongdoing, whether it’s true or not.
At this point, City officials are operating under the stance that if it’s a crime involving a juvenile – whether it’s a burglary, assault or even a bomb threat – the public shouldn’t know about it. However, law enforcement doesn’t have that option under state law.
Parents are now left wondering what exactly is taking place in our schools and throughout our community.
While the proverbial clock ticks, City Solicitor Paige Tiffany and Staff Attorney Gary Smith have requested an opinion from the state’s Attorney General regarding the issue. Despite the plain language of the law, City staff somehow remain unsure if the incident report should be released or can remain entirely confidential.
While it may be void of a precedent, staff should already know this because it’s distinctly and transparently written in state law and covered clearly in the U.S. Constitution under the First Amendment.
As the Attorney General’s office considers the City’s request, the police should do itself, as well as the community, a service by simply being forthcoming and easing the concerns of our community.