PaFOICPennsylvania Freedom of Information Coalition

Pennsylvania Freedom of Information Coalition

PSP informant policy exempt as public safety matter

Adams v. Pennsylvania State Police
Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania
No. 2305 C.D. 2011

August 31 2012

The Commonwealth Court affirmed the denial of a request for police policies concerning the use of confidential informants under the Right to Know Law’s (“RTKL”) public safety exception. The court determined that disclosure of the records could hinder criminal apprehension efforts, jeopardize the personal safety of many individuals, and deter potential informants from coming forward.
Larry Adams requested that the Pennsylvania State Police (“PSP”) provide him with copies of its policies related to confidential informants. PSP denied the request, claiming, among other things, that their disclosure might jeopardize public safety and reveal confidential information related to criminal investigations.

Adams appealed to the Office of Open Records (“OOR”), which affirmed PSP’s decision. In that appeal, PSP submitted three affidavits in support of its position, including one affidavit from a police captain in the PSP’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation who had more than 20 years of experience. The captain’s affidavit explained that disclosure of the confidential informant records would “jeopardize the use of confidential informants, … endanger the lives of confidential informants, and hinder the ability of law enforcement to make arrests.”

The OOR determined that this affidavit was sufficient evidence for PSP to carry its burden of proof. Adams then appealed to the Commonwealth Court.
Commonwealth Court decision
The court agreed with the OOR that the affidavit fulfilled PSP’s burden of showing that the requested policies “would be reasonably likely to jeopardize or threaten public safety.”

Although Adams argued that the affidavit was speculative and lacked foundation, the court rejected this argument, pointing out that the captain “based his conclusions on his experience as a member of the police for over 20 years and his extensive experience in investigations of crimes and criminal organizations.”

The court ruled that his affidavit was “the result of this experience, not mere speculation or conjecture.”

As a result, the court affirmed the PSP’s denial of the request.