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Advisory Opinions
Advisory Opinions: Police Investigative Files


Date: March 16, 2017

Subject: Law Enforcement Agency Case Numbers

Kathy Bolten
The Des Moines Register

Via Email

QUESTION:  Are internally assigned indexing case numbers confidential pursuant to Iowa Code section 22.7(5)?

Dear Ms. Bolten:

On August 25, 2016, you posed a question to the Iowa Public Information Board concerning the release of identifying case numbers on law enforcement investigative reports as part of the “immediate facts and circumstances” required for release pursuant to Iowa Code section 22.7(5).

That section states that peace officer investigative reports can be deemed confidential by the lawful custodian of such records. This section also states that certain information from such records must be released:  “However, the date, time, specific location, and immediate facts and circumstances surrounding a crime or incident shall not be kept confidential under this section, except in those unusual circumstances where disclosure would plainly and seriously jeopardize an investigation or pose a clear and present to the safety of an individual.”

Included with your request for an advisory opinion are examples of the information released by various law enforcements throughout the state of Iowa.  For example, you note that the Iowa State Patrol routinely includes the agency’s internally assigned case numbers on its website listing of Minimal Crash Reports.  The Ankeny Police Department includes the agency case number as part of the agency’s filings in district court.  The Des Moines Police Department includes the identifying internal case number on records you have requested from that agency.  Iowa State University Police Division includes case number on its daily crime log posted on its website.  

Correspondence you received from the Department of Public Safety (DPS) opined that an internally assigned case number is not part of the “immediate facts and circumstances” and would not be released with the required information. DPS specifically stated that case numbers were not considered information mandated for release pursuant to Iowa Code section 22.7(5).  Counsel for DPS correctly noted that decisions by other agencies to release case numbers do not automatically require DPS to release similar information.  Iowa Code section 22.7(5), in the opening sentence, allows a lawful custodian to release records that could be deemed confidential under Iowa law.

Counsel for DPS expressed concerns that releasing case numbers with DPS testing related to the investigation of impaired driving could result in the release of identifying information concerning individuals not arrested or charged, juveniles, or individuals whose results exonerated them from suspicion.

The examples you provided all appear to utilize a combination of dates and times of the incident (2016018472, 20160024843, 16-001598, AN16-2376) as a form of indexing.  This should not be considered as part of a peace officer’s investigative report.  An internally assigned case number that serves to index or organize a report as part of an administrative system should not be considered an investigative report pursuant to Iowa Code section 22.7(5) and should be released without redaction.  It is not necessary to determine whether these case numbers are included in a definition of “immediate facts and circumstances.”

If the release of an internally assigned case number could potentially violate another state law or a federal law, the redaction of such information must relate to that specific law.  A law enforcement agency can also indicate that the release of such information “would plainly and seriously jeopardize an investigation or pose a clear and present danger to the safety of an individual” as allowed by Iowa Code section 22.7(5).  However, as that section clearly states, such a circumstance should be considered “unusual” and not the standard response to a record request.

This opinion is requested from the Iowa Public Information Board (IPIB) pursuant to Iowa Code section 23.6 and rule 497-1.2. We note that IPIB's jurisdiction is limited to the application of Iowa Code chapters 21, 22, and 23, and rules in Iowa Administrative Code chapter 497. Advice in a Board opinion, if followed, constitutes a defense to a subsequent complaint based on the same facts and circumstances.

For these reasons, the Board is of the opinion that Iowa Code section 22.7(5) does not support the uniform denial of the release of an internally assigned case number.  

Suzan Stewart, Chair
E. J. Giovannetti
Keith Luchtel
Rick Morain
William Peard
Julie Pottorff 
Renee Twedt
Mary Ungs-Sogaard
Submitted by:

Margaret E. Johnson       
Interim Executive Director