"Last week we reported that Greensboro had given out confidential police reports to Yes! Weekly." -- John Hammer, Rhinoceros Times
"Information that falls under the criminal investigation or criminal intelligence exception to the public records law is not public record, but it is not confidential." Frayda S. Bluestein, North Carolina School of Government, to Ben Holder.As he is so very good at, Rhino Times editor and publisher John Hammer has begun constructing a narrative through his tried and true tactic of the firm and steady repetition of a claim he never bothered to explain or substantiate in the first place.
This time, Hammer is attempting to implant the notion in the public conciousness that the emails released by the City of Greensboro to his competitor Yes!Weekly were "confidential." (From here, it's an easy slide into Hammer's favorite past time of berating city staff as incompetent, which seems to be his real objective.)
One problem: The records are not "confidential." (They are not "reports" either, as Hammer says. They were emails. "Confidential police reports," sounds more sinister, I suppose, but it was emails that were released, not reports and Hammer surely knows that.)
As Frayda Bluestein of the North Carolina School of Government explains, courtesy of Ben Holder, "confidential" has a specific meaning in regard to government records and the documents to which Hammer is referring don't meet the test.
City employees, even police, cannot simply slap the word "confidential" on an email and make it off limits. These records fall into the area where cities have some discretion about their release. The records the City released are of the kind that Bluestein explains:
"[T]he statute leaves it to the public agency to decide whether and when to release this type of material."The city legally released this information. It offered a glimpse of the way local police conduct surveillance on law-abiding citizens and revealed that at least one police lieutenant considered a city council person to be a "confidential informant."
I would argue that it's good for civilians to have this kind of insight into their police force and elected representatives. Others may disagree, but it's a big lie to express that disagreement by pretending that that such records are "confidential." They are not and Hammer should stop saying they are. He's misleading his readers.