Our View: Getting warrants more transparent

Thursday , February 06, 2014 - 11:30 AM

Editorial Board, Standard-Examiner

Newspapers provide information to the public. Often times, journalists have to tangle with public officials in getting information out that the public has a right to know. It’s great when public officials — whether encouraged by the media or otherwise — make changes that promote transparency and offer more information to the public.

Two positive changes that may provide more sunshine to the public occurred recently. In Ogden, there are plans for the police to go live soon with a cyberwatch website that will provide the public easy access to arrest warrants in Junction City, By being more transparent with the arrest warrants, the police also hope that those who go to the website will be able to help them in solving crimes. According to Ogden’s police deputy director of support services John Harvey, when he worked in Shelby County, Tennessee, the department — which had a similar website — was able to clear 10,000-plus warrants in a year. We’re glad that Ogden police have chosen to take this transparent mode.

Another positive example of transparency has occurred statewide. Due to the efforts of the Utah Headliners, a chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, the Utah Supreme Court Advisory Committee has proposed a change to rules that would allow sealed search warrants for police to go public after six months. A prosecutor or police officer could still apply to seal the warrant in six-months increments, and if sealed for three years, the warrant may be indefinitely sealed.

Why this is a big plus for the public’s right to know is that under the current system, many search warrants were being routinely sealed by a judge on a simple request from a prosecutor or police officer. This routine behavior made it more difficult for journalists to get information for the public. If the proposed change occurs, there will be a greater burden of argument on those applying to have a search warrant sealed.

We agree with journalist Nate Carlisle, who worked with authorities to get the proposed change, that open records are a critical test of openness. The proposed change is a good step toward more transparency, as well as accountability from public servants. To comment on the proposal, Rule 40, go here.

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