Are we safer in the dark?


Nick Schmiechel

“Can I get a copy of the alcohol violations that have occurred on campus in the last month?”

“Are you working for the Collegian?”


“You’ll have to talk to the chief of police or the lieutenant when one of them is here.”

“Do you know when one of them will be in?”


This was the conversation that took place when I went to ask the University Police Department for a copy of the alcohol violations on campus. I researched the public information laws in South Dakota, and found that police departments are not required to keep records of daily activities. However, if police do keep these records, they are required to file that as public information. I also find it hard to believe that the person at the desk doesn’t have a schedule of when an officer will be in the building, but the lack of a schedule is not the point of this column.

I am not out to attack the University Police Department. I simply used that incident as an example to further explain my point. It’s simply about the growing amount of rights that citizens of the United States are denied everyday.

I went and talked to the Brookings Police Department and they were very willing and helpful in my search for records. I could receive the traffic accidents records right on the spot, but I would have to go to the state’s attorney to get the other records. This is the type of thing that I find very comforting as a citizen, the government helping citizens.

Sunshine Week just culminated, educating the masses on the rights of people of this nation and the Freedom of Information Act. If you go into a courthouse and ask for how much a city clerk makes, you will have no problem receiving that information. If you try to figure out who is carrying a concealed weapon, good luck. Concealed weapons permits are no longer considered public information. Isn’t this the type of information that citizens should know? What information will citizens be denied next, sex offenders?

The Patriot Act was set up to protect citizens in time of war. I am sure that everyone has heard by now that President Bush has the right and ability to wire tap citizens’ phones. This reminds me of the good old “shoot first, ask questions later” days of J. Edgar Hoover when Hoover seemed to believe that he and the FBI had the ability to do just about anything they wanted. Instead of concentrating on wire-tapping phones in the U.S., Bush should focus on extracting our troops from Iraq. Furthermore, the government should have turned more of their attention to helping the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Public information being available is important because it gives citizens a reason to trust our government. Citizens need to trust their government. If citizens fail to trust the government, the government fails. As long as the government remains open, the less chance there is for corruption. The less corruption in the government, the more trust citizens will have in the government. Sunshine Week was about the importance of getting government information out of the dark and into the light. Citizens, do you feel safer in the dark?