The University of Arkansas at Fayetteville asked that higher education institutions be added to a bill that would keep secret the names of police officers working at schools, according to UA and the bill's sponsor.
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UA had asked for the inclusion after receiving a Freedom of Information Act request from a woman who wanted to know the names of police officers assigned to provide security at a 2015 football game.
Emails from UA officials show that they did not appear to know the reason why Samantha Baker sought the information, beyond safety concerns. Baker, a photographer who was going to work at the game, said she was afraid she would encounter a police officer she said had raped her. Baker agreed for her name to be used for this article.
Mark Rushing, a spokesman for the university, said officials contacted state Sen. Gary Stubblefield, R-Branch, and asked that higher education be added to his bill, Senate Bill 12. Stubblefield originally intended it to apply to every public school that operates a pre-kindergarten program or serves students from kindergarten through 12th grade.
"We think it's important to more clearly protect sensitive security information that could be harmful to our efforts to provide a safe campus environment," Rushing said in an email.
Stubblefield said Friday he had not known the reason behind Baker's request.
SB12 would make secret the personal information about security officials. The bill also would exempt from the Freedom of Information Act information or records that would "reasonably be expected to be detrimental to the public safety, including without limitation records or other information concerning emergency or security plans, school safety plans, procedures, risk assessments, studies, measures, or systems."
When Stubblefield presented his bill to the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday, he cited the UA.
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"We have seen in the past Freedom of Information Act requests made to institutions seeking this information," Stubblefield told the Senate committee.
"In one instance the University of Arkansas received a request seeking information about the locations of law enforcement who were stationed at a football game. We know that these kind of large events have security challenges and we want to make sure that no one can know who is working or at an event and how many people would be there."
Baker, now a UA law student, filed a request for "a list of names/the spreadsheet of names of non-[UA Police Department] law enforcement expected to be working on or near the football stadium on Friday, November 27, 2015."
Baker, a former photographer for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, covered the game for The Associated Press.
"I was raped by a police officer in 2012. Reported in 2013. He was fired in 2013," she said in an email. The prosecutor decided against filing charges against the officer, she said.
"In 2015, I learned that he was still a police officer. I was assigned to work the football games and freaked out that he would be there. So I [filed a Freedom of Information Act request for] all officers who would be there," she said.
"It's my [filing] that spurred this request -- [a filing] that the University denied to fill anyways."
The police officer did not work for the UA Police Department, she said. The UA hires officers from nearby municipalities for game-day security and traffic control.
According to UA emails provided by Baker, Scott Varady, who was then a lawyer for the university and is now executive director and general counsel for the Razorback Foundation, denied the request.
He said the records were exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. He cited a part of the law that prevents "undisclosed investigations by law enforcement agencies of suspected criminal activity" from being disclosed.
In the email to Baker, Varady said Baker had declined to elaborate about her safety concerns. The Freedom of Information Act does not require users to state a reason for their requests.
The committee approved SB12 without dissent on Wednesday, and the Senate passed it Thursday. It has since been assigned to the House Education Committee.
Stubblefield said he proposed the bill to ensure the safety of schools and law enforcement officials that serve them.
"We've got people out there now who dream up things to do to teachers and children," he said. "We've seen it all over our nation. Those people do not need to be exposed to that. They don't need a target put on their back just because the press wants to do that. I'll never go along with that. Safety is always first."
Criminal offenses by security officials should be in the newspaper, Stubblefield said.
His bill exempts from disclosure: "Records or other information relating to the number of licensed security officers, school resource officers, or other security personnel, as well as any personal information about those individuals."
While Stubblefield said he believed criminal offenses could be disclosed, internal records about wrongdoing may not be public under the bill, he said.
"That could happen," he said of internal documents being made secret. "But before someone is hired by a school, they have to go through a pretty extensive background check."
Rushing responded to a question about whether personally identifiable information about police wrongdoing would be made publicly available under the bill by saying that the university would review the law before responding to requests.
Tom Larimer, executive director of the Arkansas Press Association, has warned that "the bill would create a cloak of secrecy around school security plans that would remove any possibility of the people knowing if they even have a security plan.
"It closes everything related to the security plan. It's written very broadly," he said. "I really don't see what they are trying to hide."
Stubblefield has filed a separate bill, SB131, that exempts Capitol police records from disclosure using much of the same language as is in SB12. He said he expects to introduce the bill either Tuesday or Thursday in the Senate State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee.
Metro on 02/11/2017