Q: Can I make an open records request for police records, such as daily arrest records or records involving an investigation? What about a district attorney’s investigative files?
A: Police records are presumed public and, like all records, their release is subject to the common law balancing test. In many cases, the police department withholds records claiming their release may interfere with an ongoing investigation. See 77 Wis. Op. Att’y Gen. 42 (1988) (OAG 7-88). The Wisconsin Supreme Court, however, has held that, at a minimum, daily arrest records are open to the public. Newspapers, Inc. v. Breier, 89 Wis. 2d 417, 428-29, 279 N.W.2d 179 (1979). The court opined that “[t]he requirement that arrest books be open to the public is to prevent any ‘secret arrests,’ a concept odious to a democratic society.” Id. But, in State ex rel. Richards v. Foust, 165 Wis. 2d 429, 433-34, 477 N.W.2d 608 (1991) the court held that district attorney files are not subject to public access, even after the trial and all appeals have been concluded.
Disclaimer: The Frequently Asked Questions and Answers on the Wisconsin FOIC website are provided by Godfrey & Kahn, S.C. (LaFollette Godfrey & Kahn is the Madison office of Godfrey & Kahn, S.C.).
The information provided on this website is a service to the general public. The information provided is not legal advice. Do not act on this information without the advice of professional legal counsel, who must evaluate the facts of your situation in light of current laws before giving you legal advice.
Your use of this web site does not create an attorney-client relationship with our firm, Godfrey & Kahn, S.C., or with any of our attorneys. Please contact us directly if you would like to retain our firm as your legal counsel, www.gklaw.com. But do not send us confidential information until you have spoken with one of our attorneys. Before we can represent you, we must determine that no conflict of interest or other situation would prevent us from representing you. Our representation begins only after we complete our evaluation and agree in writing to represent you.