South Dakota has moved toward a more open government in the last decade. Some government contracts are now posted online and police logs are now made public.
But a task force meeting in Pierre on Wednesday hopes to open more records to citizens.
The task force is made up of members of the media, including KELOLAND’s Angela Kennecke, judges, prosecutors and law enforcement ranging from police, sheriffs and highway patrol. There’s one thing they all agree on making public��mug shots. But it’s a big hurdle to get that done.
Most states release mug shots of people charged with crimes. South Dakota is not one of them. In fact, if you’ve seen mug shots on KELOLAND News of people charged in crimes, it’s because they came from other states.
“We are only one of the states, that if we provide a booking photo, it’s actually a crime,” Attorney General Marty Jackley said.
An effort to change that was defeated in 2013. But this new task force is hoping to get the issue back in front of the legislature in the upcoming session.
Mug shots do provide a way to clearly identify the accused, like in the case of Jason Becker who was recently charged with raping a Sioux Falls high school student. A different Jason Becker was bombarded by people calling to see if it was him. We couldn’t show you which Jason Becker it was until we received a mug shot from California later that afternoon. Having a mug shot would clearly identify which Jason Becker was charged with a crime. But Legislators have voiced concerns about released mug shots ending up on third party websites, which try to extort money from people to take them down.
“That has been one of the concerns we’ve heard that has occurred elsewhere in the country,” Jackley said.
Some states have passed laws to try to stop those websites from profiting from mug shots, but it’s difficult to enforce. Another issue this task force is tackling is making law enforcement incident reports public. Currently, calls that come into police are public, but officers are not required to divulge any details about what happened, although some departments still do.
“On top of that log, we’ll put out the more noteworthy things that happen, trying to be accommodating for the media; something to look at if they’re interested, for example a paragraph on a pursuit that may have happened, ” Rapid City Assistant Police Chief Don Hedrick said.
But right now, what’s released is just up to the department.
“It’s hit and miss with their ability to access that information with law enforcement across the state,” David Bordewyk of the South Dakota Newspaper Association said.
“We need to be careful of those that are innocent out there, and protect them and at the same time, release information to the public that could be of public interest,” Lt. Paul Gerken of the South Dakota Highway Patrol said.
Any effort to make incident reports public would allow law enforcement to hold back information that would compromise an ongoing investigation.
When it comes to law enforcement records, South Dakota law currently only allows for the release of blood alcohol levels or presence of drugs in someone charged with a crime, as well as 911 recordings.
The task force meets again at the end of this month and expects to have new legislation regarding open records to present to lawmakers this winter.