The Utah State Records Committee voted that the UVU Police Department could no longer charge a fee for student reporters at the UVU Review to access incident reports, on Oct. 10, ending a yearlong appeals battle.
Prior to the fall of 2017, access to the initial contacts reports was free of charge, however, a change in policy left reporters paying $10 per incident report.
Police incident reports can be one to two paragraphs of basic information documenting initial calls or the response of the police among other things and are typically public, according to Utah Code 63 G-2-301.
Student reporters at The UVU Review, including Mack Jones, sought to have the fees waived, as the high charges kept building up with each report that was accessed.
The fees were lowered to $5 per report, but were not waived on the basis that it was “a reasonable fee, since the reports had to be obtained from a software system used by other law enforcement agencies”, according to the Utah State Records Committee report.
Jones worked with Eric Peterson, president of the Utah Headliners Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, to appeal before the Records Committee for a removal of the fees. They approached UVU administration upon discovering that many other state universities were not required to pay fees for access to the reports.
Jones argued that “reporting on campus crime is critical to inform the campus of safety risks; it helps inform students, staff and faculty about the types of crime happening on their campus so that they might take safety precautions.”
Considering that The UVU Review is a student paper with limited resources and that the reports “benefit the public”, the committee agreed with Jones. Under their 6-0 ruling, access to the reports were made free again.
“This was a significant step for student journalists, and we are hoping that this is something that can be applied to other campuses,” said Peterson. “This is about helping to improve transparency and access in their communities. Although these student journalists aren’t professionals yet, it’s their rights and all of our rights to have access to this information.”
The UVU Police said that they would comply with the ruling and would make the reports accessible to the UVU Review.
“It’s a protection of first amendment rights. It’s not just freedom of the press, but freedom of anyone who’s interested,” said Zachary Smith, the Editor-in-Chief at The UVU Review. “It’s fighting for the freedom of everything, which is what Mack and Eric really were working to do.”