The Toledo Blade is doing a series on gangs in the city, which is a good public-interest story and certainly relevant news. It's called "Battle lines; Gangs of Toledo."
But they're not happy with the Toledo Police Department or Mayor Mike Bell because they won't release the map they have showing the territories of the various gangs.
Publisher and Editor-in-Chief John Robinson Block took the unusual action of writing - and signing - an editorial titled "On gang map, Mayor Bell ignores the public's right to know."
The people of Toledo have a right to know about gang activity in this city. They have a right to know where it is. They are entitled to see the “gang map” that tells where gang activity is most dangerous and intense.
Many months ago, The Blade asked for that map, which is a public document under Ohio law. The mayor refused to release it. He has persisted in this refusal, even in the abse
nce of legal authority. This refusal is illegal and unjustified.
Except, the refusal is legal.
Ohio Revised Code 149.43 details the state's law about open records, access and penalties for failure to comply. It's one of the best public records laws in the country, generously favoring the public's right to know.
But there are numerous exemptions - items specifically designated as NOT a public record. Section (1) defines what a public record is and also says "Public record" does not mean any of the following: The following list includes this exemption
(h) Confidential law enforcement investigatory records;
The only way the Blade can maintain that the release of the gang map is a public record is to claim that it is not a confidential law enforcement investigatory record. That's also the only way the Mayor can maintain its secrecy.
Block also writes:
One consolation is that The Blade’s map is almost certainly more accurate than the city’s because gang members were naturally more willing to talk with our reporters than police officers.
Well if their map is more accurate, why are they still quibbling with TPD over theirs?
Block then writes:
Our motive is not to defame anyone or to depress readers but to show what is — to tell the truth.
In the final analysis, the gang map is not a matter of the newspaper’s right to know, but the people’s right to know. The Blade is merely the surrogate and servant of the people of Toledo. For only an informed public can govern itself.
For those of you who have followed my writing over the years, you'll know that I gave up coming up with headlines on the Blade's bias and just started numbering them. The local daily has a reputation - deservedly so - for being more of the dictator than the servant and for telling people what they want the people to know - rather than the truth. To say that hysterical laughter followed when I read this sentence, first to myself and then to a group of others, would not do justice to the hysterical laughter that actually followed.
But I digress - so back to the map as a public record...
TPD probably does not have a single map, but a series of maps over time, likely showing the various gang territories and how they have changed over time. Such a map could very legitimately be a confidential investigatory record showing which gangs are expanding, which are declining, which are combining and which are new. How they interact within their territories and with/against each other based upon those territories is an investigatory tool that could help TPD monitor and predict their activities and likely conflicts.
If the maps show disputed territory, it could influence such things as where TPD is placing their (highly controversial) monitoring cameras as well as the routes of their road patrols.
Additionally, if the gangs know what it is that the police know about their territories, it could cause them to change certain behaviors, putting the public further at risk.
If I can come up with such reasons and explanations as for why the TPD gang map is not a public record, I'm certain the mayor, having all the information, can as well. In fact, that's exactly what happened and the Blade promptly sued the city over the issue.
Contrary to what the editor claims in his editorial, the issue is not clear-cut and the public's 'right to know' isn't always outweighed by the public's own safety, or the safety of our police officers, through the protection of confidential investigatory records.
For more information, check out: What The Blade didn't tell its readers about their 'gang map' public records lawsuit