The names of police officers involved in court cases have disappeared from Maryland’s online court data base, setting off protests from both journalists and civil liberties groups.
The disappearance stems from little noticed rules changes proffered last year by the standing committee on rules of practice and procedure. It deleted a section that required that the names of police officers and other government officials involved in court cases be available in the online data base, along with office addresses, telephone numbers and email addresses.
David Rocah, senior staff attorney with the Maryland ACLU, said the change was made at the behest of police unions.
“It’s incomprehensible to me, frankly, that this change was made,” he said. “And it’s even more appalling that it was made at the request of police unions without seeking input apparently from other vitally interested parties.”
He called the change “insane” and said it was “hugely destructive of critically necessary transparency and accountability in how police officers and other public officials are performing their duties.”
Court officials said in a statement the change was made “in response to personal safety concerns raised by law enforcement.”
The statement said the rules committee report was posted on the Judiciary website on April 17 last year and that the Court of Appeals adopted the change—effective August 1--after a public hearing.
The names disappeared recently after the website was reprogrammed and tested.
Rebecca Snyder, executive director of the Maryland, Delaware DC Press Association, said the organization was following the rules committee's deliberations, but was concentrating at the time on a proposed rule that would have automatically expunged whole case files from the data base.
“It’s a pattern where we’re seeing more and more,” she said. “Government and judicial entities looking to redact, expunge, seal, get rid of, whatever term you want to say, records from public view.”
Police union officials could not be reached for comment.