News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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July 10, 2013

Vigo County taking steps to be ahead of state address disclosure law

TERRE HAUTE — Police detectives have long used a Vigo County-supported website to check names and addresses of property owners as part of investigations.

Yet that information can be a double-edged sword, also revealing the addresses of law enforcement officers.

Now a state law will allow law enforcement, judges and victims of domestic violence enrolled in the Indiana Attorney General’s address confidentiality program to restrict disclosure of their home addresses to the public from the county-supported “Beacon” website  (www.vigo

county.in.gov).

The law does not restrict disclosure of such information for businesses or apartments owned by those covered persons.

The issue hit the Vigo County Board of Commissioners early this year when the board discussed the possibility of removing address after “some suggestion was made” to a correctional officer, who lives in Vigo County and works at the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility, “that an inmate could find out where he lived,” said Vigo County Attorney Michael Wright.

“We then learned the state legislature had the issue up in proposed legislation. We made the determination to wait to see what the legislature did in terms of defining a class of people who are eligible and setting up safeguards for the county,” Wright said.

On Tuesday, commissioners unanimously voted to approve a form to allow those covered persons to remove their names and addresses from the county website. The form and removal are processed by the Vigo County Auditor’s office. That office will start the program on Monday.

Commissioners are requiring a covered person to annually submit a signed written request to have the home address removed. The form must be filed annually even if the address has not changed from the previous year.

The form shows the property address, parcel number, description of how the residence is titled, plus home phone and cell phone. The form is declared confidential and is not public record, under the state law.

The list will be updated every Sept. 1, with addresses removed from the confidential list that are not resubmitted or have changed.

“Due to the fact that we will be suppressing information that was previously public and people move all the time, we did not want to get into a situation where the [suppression] list just keeps building up and building up and never gets purged,” Wright said.

Vigo County’s action on blocking the information on its website is being done before it is mandated. The state law becomes effective July 1, 2014, and will then require any city, town, county or township that operates a public website data base containing the names and addresses of property owners to establish a procedure to allow a law enforcement officer, a judge or a victim of domestic violence who participants in the state Attorney General’s address confidentiality program to restrict disclosure of a covered person’s home address to the public.

The state law is House Enrolled Act 1219.

Law enforcement includes police officer, correctional police officer, sheriff, constable, marshal, prosecuting attorney, special prosecuting attorney, special deputy prosecuting attorney, securities commissioner and inspector general.

Also included would be a deputy of any of those above, such as a deputy sheriff. It also includes conservation officers; enforcement officers of the alcohol and tobacco commission; the enforcement officer of the securities division of the office of secretary of state; and an investigator for a prosecuting attorney or for the inspector general.

The law also covers judges, both present and former, of the supreme court, court of appeals, tax court, circuit court, superior court, municipal court, county court or small claims court.

Terre Haute Police Chief John Plasse has been in law enforcement for 28 years. Plasse said he has first-hand experience of people coming to his home.

“It has happened in the past, when I was first hired as an officer,” when a police vehicle parked at his home had a window knocked out. “I think it is a good thing to keep home addresses private so you don’t have someone coming back to ‘pay back’ an officer for arresting them for something,” Plasse said.

Plasse said city police officers have been harassed at places such as county fairs, but such incidents have not yet stretched to an officer’s home, the chief said.

“Here, we don’t have a lot of issues with that,” he said, “but I think it is a good idea.”

“We do have weapons that we can protect ourselves, but if it is easy for someone to find, by [blocking the information on the county website] it may prevent someone from trying to find out where [an officer] lives,” Plasse said.

Wright said it would be obvious that a known address not listed on the public website would belong to a covered person; however, the specific information on who lives at the address would not be available.

Plasse said he does not hide where he lives. “I am outside cutting the grass,” he said. “Still, it is good to remove that information.”

Reporter Howard Greninger can be reached at 812-231-4204 or howard.greninger

@tribstar.com.

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