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Police Notes Now Public Record

The Eugene Police Department’s longstanding policy of requiring officers to destroy their written notes after creating an incident report has changed. The new policy defines investigative notes — written and electronic — as public records and requires their retention for a minimum of two years. EPD did not respond to inquiries about whether defendants will be given the notes as routine evidence or will be required to request them as public records.

Attorney Tony Rosta, who handles many cases as a public defender, says he and partner Joe Connelly think note retention will help them better represent their clients. “We’ve always thought the best account of what happened would be recent notes, notes taken contemporaneously or just after the event or investigation,” he says, even if officers use them to create an incident report. “We think there may still be some pieces that they would decide to leave out for efficiency reasons or otherwise that we would find helpful to the defendant’s case.”

Civil Liberties Defense Center Executive Director Lauren Regan says that when officers could record an incident electronically, but were not required to file the notes, it created a lack of transparency. “Most civil rights lawyers believe the more transparency between law enforcement and the public the better,” she says, “so preventing law enforcement from secreting work product while on duty is certainly a step toward more and better transparency.”

Rosta says that he’s been agitating for a note retention policy change for years, but credit goes to local court observers. “Some of our court-watchers have been instrumental, particularly Carol Berg-Caldwell,” he says. Berg-Caldwell is a longtime advocate for Eugeneans navigating the court system.