FIRST ON 3: Mayor Berke wants state law changed to limit Open Re - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

FIRST ON 3: Mayor Berke wants state law changed to limit Open Records requests

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CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) -

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke wants Tennessee law changed to limit Open Records after a Channel 3 investigation revealed a city officer was driving on a suspended license. Driver's license information is public record and anyone can pull that number to learn more about you.

But a proposed Tennessee law would exempt police officers from that type of inspection.  

Acting on a tip last year, Channel 3 discovered a local police officer driving on a suspended license and filed a public records request for the driver's license information for all Chattanooga officers. Channel 3 found that everyone, expect that one officer, was in compliance.

READ MORE | 3 INVESTIGATES: Chattanooga cop wrote tickets without valid driver's license

State law makes the license numbers for government employees who drive as part of their job open to the public. But some police officers did not want the public to be able to check their driving history and they asked Mayor Andy Berke to do something about it. 


"Many of our officers were unhappy because that puts their physical safety at risk along with the physical safety of their families,” Berke said.

Berke thinks a license number can help a bad guy find out where an officer lives.

"Information contained in an officer's driver's license is already confidential. And the officer's driver's license allows anybody to access information that is already confidential," he said. "They expressed their disapproval and we asked our legislative delegation to do something about it."

Fraternal Order of Police President Sean O'Brien said officers were unhappy when the request was made. 

"You can put a license number in and its ultimately going to get you the information that we can get if we're on a traffic stop and we run your license,” he said . "The members of the Fraternal Order of Police were extremely concerned."

Deborah Fisher, Executive Director of Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, believes the public has a right to know about the driving history of police officers.  

"If driving weren't a part of an officer's job, the record might be irrelevant," Fisher said. "But patrol and driving is very much a part of law enforcement's job and the public has a right to know if their police department is operating safely and making sure its officers on the road are abiding by the safety laws.  Without the independent check allowed through public records, some problems become very easy to hide."

Berke knew he could do nothing to stop the public inspection so he asked State Senator Todd Gardenhire for help changing state law.

"We want to be very protective of personal information of police officers. We don't want to put them in harm's way and we don't want to put their families in harm's way by someone seeking retaliation,” Gardenhire said.

Gardenhire admits safety was not the only reason. He met with city officials in the fall as they tried to sell him on the idea of the bill.

"The way it was put to us was - we've had a lot of people request this information, its bogging us down and it would sure save us time and money if we could exempt them,” Gardenhire said.

But another public records request by Channel 3 revealed just one request in the past two years and it was Channel 3. The fact that this bill centered around just one media outlet's request was news to Gardenhire.

Gardenhire said he wants to hear from City Council members before he considers re-introducing the bill.

"If a municipality wants us to pass a bill for them, a local bill, we must have the city council or county commission, whatever the governing body is, first approve that effort by 2/3 vote,” he said.

The bill is dead for now but Gardenhire could re-introduce it in January.

If you have a news tip you want Channel 3 to investigate, email newstips@wrcbtv.com. Your tip can remain anonymous.

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