- Associated Press - Saturday, May 2, 2015

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) - A state lawmaker has pledged to introduce legislation that would require disclosure of private college police department reports following a lawsuit over access to University of Notre Dame police records.

State Rep. B. Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend, said he is frustrated by how Notre Dame, his alma mater, has handled sexual assault cases reported to campus police, and he wants to change Indiana’s public records laws to require more transparency.

“I believe any private police force should be under the same rules as a public police force because they’re acting instead of a public police force,” Bauer told the South Bend Tribune (https://bit.ly/1bB20IM ). “We cannot keep going on this way.”

St. Joseph Superior Court Judge Steven Hostetler ruled late last month in a lawsuit filed by ESPN that Notre Dame didn’t have to make its police records public. But the judge said he shared the Indiana public access counselor’s “discomfort with the notion that a private party can exercise police powers” without providing access to its records and suggested it was time for the Legislature to consider the issue.

ESPN had argued that a police department with the power to arrest should be subject to public scrutiny. It filed a lawsuit Jan. 15 alleging the private school was violating Indiana’s public record laws by withholding police incident reports about possible campus crimes involving certain student-athletes.

The lawsuit didn’t specify what incident reports ESPN was seeking or which athletes may have been involved.

Bauer called Notre Dame’s practice of withholding records of such cases “worse than silly.”

“We need to either abolish these private police forces or do what’s right,” Bauer said. “I think Notre Dame shouldn’t be hiding behind this. It’s worse than silly . it’s just wrong.”

ESPN has until May 20 to appeal Hostetler’s ruling, and its decision could dictate how the General Assembly approaches the issue, said Steve Key, executive director and legal counsel for the Hoosier State Press Association.

Key said the Legislature typically is reluctant to change laws while they’re under review by the courts. If ESPN doesn’t appeal, Key said lobbying to change public records law will be high on the association’s legislative agenda next year.

“Nobody is trying to put Notre Dame in the position where the university is a public agency” under the law, Key said. “The desire is to take its police department and say, if you derive arrest powers from the state . you should make public your records.”

Bauer said he will use his seat on the board of directors of Independent Colleges Indiana to initiate discussion of the issue. He said an attorney for Notre Dame, a member of the group, has expressed interest in engaging in those talks.

“They said they would like to work on a solution with me and the independent colleges,” Bauer said. “To me, that’s positive. I think Notre Dame is coming to realize there has to be some steps taken.”

Notre Dame officials have said repeatedly that rulings have long held the university’s records to be exempt from public records laws and that the school is complying with state law.

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Information from: South Bend Tribune, https://www.southbendtribune.com

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