Miscellaneous Law Enforcement Records Exemptions and Prohibitions
This page discusses some of the more common miscellaneous records exemptions and prohibitions for police and sheriff records in Washington State, including booking photos, concealed pistol license applications, confidential informants, abuse of vulnerable adults, and intelligence information.
It is part of MRSC's Law Enforcement Records Tool Kit, created in partnership with the State Auditor's Center for Government Innovation.
In addition to the exemptions and prohibitions covered in more detail elsewhere, state law provides for a number of other exemptions or prohibitions for disclosure of law enforcement records. The more common ones are discussed below.
Always consult with your legal counsel if you are unsure whether a record or certain information within the record is exempt or prohibited from disclosure.
Booking photos, as inmate records, cannot be disclosed under RCW 70.48.100(2). However, the photo may be disseminated if it depicts a sex offender (under RCW 4.24.550), if the agency has received the written permission of the person in the photo, or for other limited circumstances outlined in the statute.
A booking photo may also be used by law enforcement to assist them in conducting investigations of crimes.
Concealed Pistol License Applications
RCW 42.56.240(4) exempts concealed pistol license applications from public disclosure, except to law enforcement or corrections agencies. This exemption does not apply to copies of permits themselves.
Information revealing the identity or vehicle information of confidential informants is exempt from disclosure under RCW 42.56.240(1) and (2), RCW 42.56.230(7)(c) and (d),and rule CrR 4.7(f)(2).
Abuse of Vulnerable Adults
RCW 74.34.095 prohibits the disclosure of information regarding the abuse of vulnerable adults in most instances. This includes:
- Reports of abandonment, abuse, financial exploitation, or neglect;
- The identity of the person making the report; and
- All files, reports, records, communications, and working papers used or developed in the investigation or provision of protective services.
This information can be disclosed only as outlined in chapters 18.20, 18.51, or 74.39A RCW and other limited circumstances outlined in RCW 74.34.095.
RCW 42.56.240(1) exempts “specific intelligence information … the nondisclosure of which is essential to effective law enforcement...” “Intelligence” can include:
- Information about methods used by law enforcement agency to carry out investigations; or
- The gathering or distribution of information, especially secret information; information about an enemy; or the evaluated conclusions drawn from such information.
See Fischer v. Dep’t of Corrections (2011); King County v. Sheehan (2002).
To be intelligence information, the information does not need to concern particular individuals, but it must disclose particular methods or procedures for gathering or evaluating intelligence information. See Haines-Marchel v. Dep’t of Corrections (2014).
Potential examples of intelligence information include police training manuals providing tactical information (such as hand signals to use during an incident) or SWAT team tactical maneuvers that are not generally known.
Practice Tip: The officer should provide the agency’s legal counsel with a clear and specific description of why withholding the intelligence information is essential to effective law enforcement. Consider conducting a line-by-line analysis of the record in order to apply this exemption. See West v. City of Tacoma (2020) where the city’s justification was insufficient to justify the exemption.