Nevada Arrest Records Go Dark
by Alexander Cohen
A database of Nevada arrest records that was open to public inspection for decades has been made secret by a new state law.
The Nevada Department of Public Safety, which collects the information from law enforcement agencies across the state, won approval of the new law after the Las Vegas Review-Journal requested arrest and conviction records last year.
In May, DPS submitted an amendment to Assembly Bill 76, a measure to update rules for Nevada’s main repository of criminal history information such as arrests and convictions. The amendment prohibited releasing to the media any personal identifying information, such as names and dates of birth. The change, which took effect two months ago, allows the disclosure of identifying information only if media requesters ask for the records of a specific person.
It is unclear whether the new law will permit the release of data for certain offenses, such as all homicide arrests made in a given year, with only the names of arrestees removed.
Stephen Larrick, director of state and local programs for the Sunlight Foundation, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit that advocates for open government, said the Legislature violated the spirit of Nevada’s Public Records Act by shielding the records.
“The fourth estate has the right to information relevant to public discourse — including information about the criminal history of individuals — and needs expedient access to such records, sometimes in bulk, in order to hold government accountable,” he said.
DPS declined to comment on the law and its reason for seeking the change.
The public’s right to know about the workings of government is enshrined in Nevada’s public records law. The law’s opening language says it was enacted “to foster democratic principles by providing members of the public with access to inspect and copy public books and records to the extent permitted by law.”
Review-Journal Managing Editor Glenn Cook said access to a fully transparent arrest database that includes the names of those arrested is a vital public tool.