Click here to access the new sheriff's office website
The Hamilton County Sheriff's Office has a new system that will allow residents to request incident reports online and receive the reports via email.
Residents involved in traffic crashes or other incidents often request reports for reasons such as insurance claims, according to officials.
"What we're trying to do is to keep people from getting in their car and get down here and find parking. We're just trying to make it more user friendly to be able to access," Sheriff Jim Hammond said at a news conference Tuesday morning.
Capt. Lenda Clark, who oversees the office's records division, said Tuesday clerks must review if cases are under investigation before releasing the reports.
The new system was suggested by Frances Owens, a records clerk, after some residents expressed frustration about not being able to make it down to the sheriff's office in person in certain cases.
Clerks process the requests between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., according to officials. Since June 6, when the system went online, 76 requests had been made as of Tuesday morning, according to officials.
The online form asks for the requester's name, driver's license number, report number, date of the incident and the involved person's name. Clark said the sheriff's office keeps a record of who makes records requests.
The sheriff's office does not release all incident reports.
In support of government transparency and the public's right to know, more than half the sheriff's offices across the state allow the public to pull incident reports whether the investigation is open or closed, said Frank Gibson, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government.
In a 2004 audit, 55 percent of the 95 sheriff's offices in Tennessee opted to release the reports when asked.
When local reporters inquired about accessing incident reports, Hammond said it might be possible to set up something strictly for media.
"We may just set up a queue just for news media if you have credentials on file just for standard stuff," he said. "You might just have a password. ... That's something interesting we might think about if there's a need there."
Reporters depend on open records that are supposed to be available to all of the general public.
"It's a gray area in the minds of some folks in law enforcement," Gibson said. "The places that do not release them claim they are part of an investigation. It is a misinterpretation of case law."
The law remains unchallenged until someone brings about a new case, he said.
Hammond did not respond Tuesday to a request for follow-up questions regarding incident reports.
When Clark was asked during an interview about the possibility of releasing all incident reports, she said there are some issues that must be addressed first, including the removal of information that is not considered public record, such as Social Security numbers.
"I'm sure that's something that will be addressed in the future," she said, "but as it is right now we don't have the manpower to redact Social Security numbers."