Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council

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Home Category Blog Can I make an open records request for police records, such as daily arrest records or records involving an investigation? What about a district attorney's investigative files?

Can I make an open records request for police records, such as daily arrest records or records involving an investigation? What about a district attorney's investigative files?

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Q: Can I make an open records request for police records, such as daily arrest records or records involving an investigation? What about a district attorney's investigative files?

A: Police records are presumed public and, like all records, their release is subject to the common law balancing test. In many cases, the police department withholds records claiming their release may interfere with an ongoing investigation. See 77 Wis. Op. Att'y Gen. 42 (1988) (OAG 7-88). The Wisconsin Supreme Court, however, has held that, at a minimum, daily arrest records are open to the public. Newspapers, Inc. v. Breier, 89 Wis. 2d 417, 428-29, 279 N.W.2d 179 (1979). The court opined that "[t]he requirement that arrest books be open to the public is to prevent any 'secret arrests,' a concept odious to a democratic society." Id. But, in State ex rel. Richards v. Foust, 165 Wis. 2d 429, 433-34, 477 N.W.2d 608 (1991) the court held that district attorney files are not subject to public access, even after the trial and all appeals have been concluded.

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