Some of the most commonly requested personnel records are those of police officers. Law enforcement personnel records also are the most exempted, and subsequently litigated, personnel records.
When a request is made for the personnel records of a law enforcement officer, the municipality must, within three days, notify the officer whose records were requested. The notice must say that an inspection took place and note the name, address, and telephone number of the person making the inspection; for whom the inspection was made; and the date of the inspection. T.C.A. § 10-7-503(c). T.C.A. § 10-7-504(g)(1)(A) allows the chief to “segregate” personal information about any undercover police officer or member of his or her immediate family. The chief may refuse to release such information if he or she reasonably believes it may endanger the officer or the officer’s family.
In the 2007 legislative session, the procedures for reviewing and releasing law enforcement personnel records were expanded. Now, an officer’s address; home and cell phone numbers; place of employment; names, work addresses, and phone numbers of the officer’s immediate family; and the names, locations, and phone numbers of any educational institution or day-care center where the officer’s spouse or child is enrolled shall be redacted when there is a reason not to disclose the information as determined by the chief of police. This is in addition to the 2008 mandatory confidentiality of municipal employee home and personal cell telephone numbers and residential street addresses.
T.C.A. § 10-7-504 (g)(1)(A)(ii) requires the chief or the chief’s designee to make a determination “when a request to inspect includes such personal information and the request is for a professional, business, or official purpose” (emphasis added). However, under Tennessee law, a requesting citizen does not have to state his or her purpose for requesting records. This being the case, municipalities should have the police chief make the determination every time a request is made for personal information in a law enforcement personnel file. Considering a totality of the circumstances, the chief will decide what of the personal information should be redacted and what should be released.
If the chief decides to withhold any information, he or she must give specific justification in writing to the requester within two days and release the redacted file. If the chief decides there is no justification for keeping the personal information confidential, the officer must be notified and given reasonable opportunity to oppose release. When the request is from a business entity, it must also include the name and contact information for a supervisor for verification.