Protecting Confidential Police Techniques for Catching Child Predators
Democratic Party of Wisconsin v. Wisconsin Department of Justice
There is no stronger proponent of Wisconsin’s Open Records Law than the Wisconsin Department of Justice. In June 2015, the Department established the Office of Open Government, which helps facilitate timely and accurate access to public records. At the same time, the Department recognizes that there are certain, rare situations where disclosure of a record would cause grave harm to the public interest, even after taking into account the Open Records Law’s extremely laudable purposes. The present case is such an instance.
This case involves the requested release of two video-recorded trainings given to a limited audience of prosecutors, explaining how to investigate, catch, and prosecute sexual predators. The Department opposes release of these videos because it concluded—after careful deliberation—that these videos, if made public, would both help sexual predators evade the law and cause great harm to the victims.
Beyond this immediate damage to the public interest that would result from the release of these two videos, the Department is concerned about the long-term implications of such disclosure. Mandating release of these videos would undermine the State’s ability to train prosecutors and police officers in the future. As a practical matter, forcing release may well mean that future trainers will provide less useful techniques and that any such trainings may no longer be videotaped. This would deprive prosecutors and police, including those unable to attend such trainings in person, of critical tools for protecting the citizens of Wisconsin.
Status: The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that, in this case, the harm to the public interest that would result from disclosure outweighed the general legislative presumption in favor of disclosure.