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Panel Debates Opening Va. Police Records

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By Michael Pope

Virginia law-enforcement officials and open-government advocates squared off in Richmond today over a proposal to make police documents more available to the public.

But the two sides had little to agree upon.

A subcommittee of the Virginia Freedom of Information Council met today to consider a controversial bill introduced by a state senator from Roanoke.

The bill would allow judges to decide whether documents should be open or closed.

This would increase the availability of everyday documents such as incident reports, which are widely available in most other states.

Alexandria Commonwealth’s Attorney Randy Sengel was one of the many public-safety officials on hand to oppose the bill:

"Frankly, I just don’t think our court system can handle that workload at this point. I mean, we are already stretched to the limit with the resources we have, and I think this is a lot of potential litigation we don’t need to be engaging in," Sengel says.

Still, members of the advisory body said they would consider a plan to require people seeking information to prove that failure to release it would harm the public.

Virginia Press Association Director Ginger Stanley says that's a good first step.

Right now, people do not know what’s going on in their communities in many areas because nothing is being released.

Advocates for open government say they hope a bill will be considered in the next session of the General Assembly, but law enforcement officials vowed to fight the effort.

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