Legal Hotline: Campus police blotter

  • Oct 13, 2016

Melissa Melewsky, Media Law Counsel

Q:  Our newspaper covers one of the state system public universities, and we regularly report about crime on campus.  The campus police chief has started to redact names of students arrested on campus from campus police logs, citing FERPA, and claiming that campus police are an arm of the university that can’t release student-specific education records. Can they do that?

 A:  No. FERPA does not apply to campus law enforcement records, and the RTKL requires public access to campus police blotter information.

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), 23 U.S. §1232, et seq, applies to educational institutions like the Pa State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) universities, and other primary and secondary schools that receive federal funding.  The law prohibits schools from disclosing student-specific education records without consent of the student or parents, if the student is a minor. The law defines “education records” as records “directly related to a student;” and maintained by an educational agency or institution. 

However, this definition does not reach all records held by a school, because Congress expressly excluded several types of information from the definition of “education records.”  Section 1232(g)(4)(b)(2) of FERPA expressly excludes “records maintained by a law enforcement unit of the educational agency or institution that were created by that law enforcement unit for the purpose of law enforcement” from the definition of “education record.”

As a result, records created by campus police documenting arrests or citations made on campus are not education records under FERPA, and FERPA does not permit campus police to make redactions or withhold information. 

Moreover, Pennsylvania’s Right to Know Law (RTKL) applies to all PASSHE schools, and as such, the campus police department is required to provide access to public records in its possession. The RTKL expressly requires public access to police blotters maintained by campus police. See section 708(b)(16).    Police blotters are defined by 18 Pa.C.S. § 9102 as a "chronological listing of arrests, usually documented contemporaneous with the incident, which may include, but is not limited to, the name and address of the individual charged and the alleged offenses." 

Finally, federal law requires colleges and universities to provide access to information about crime on campus.  The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, 20 USC § 1092(f), also known as the Clery Act, applies to all educational institutions that receive federal funding, and requires these institutions  to maintain a public crime log that includes the nature, date, time, and general location of each crime and its disposition, if the disposition is known. This information must be entered into the school’s Clery log within two business days, which is publicly accessible during the school’s normal business hours.  Records required to be provided under the Clery Act are in addition to any records required to be provided under the RTKL, and Clery Act logs do not take the place of public records like police blotters.

As always, this is not intended to be, nor should it be construed as, legal advice.  Please contact your private attorney or the PNA Legal Hotline at (717) 703-3080 with questions.

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