Council Restricts Access To Hotel Records By Police

October 09, 1991|By Elise Armacost | Elise Armacost,Staff writer

Spurred by the hotel industry's concern for guests' privacy and its own liability, the County Council voted Monday to restrict police officers' access to hotel records.

As submitted by County Executive Robert R. Neall, the records-inspection bill would require hotels, motels, bed-and-breakfast inns and other "transient lodging facilities" to hand over guests' registration and phone records whenever a policeofficer asks for them.

In a compromise with hotel operators, the council changed the bill so that hoteliers do not have to give police the records if more than seven days have passed since a guest checked out.

The amendment-- one of six approved by the council -- gives hotel operators the right to request written authorization from the police chief that the inspection is part of a criminal investigation. The authorization would state that the guest in question is either believed to be staying at the hotel or has checked out within the last seven days.

Neall asked for the legislation as a way of catching drug traffickers who sometimes work out of hotel rooms.

Though a committee of hotel operators and legislators had been working on a compromise since the billwas introduced Sept. 3, the industry still had problems when it camebefore the council Monday night. Hotel operators said they would notsupport the measure unless it specified that police were to use the records only for "hot pursuit" cases.

"Hotels in Anne Arundel County are not dens of iniquity," said Tom Negri, general manager at Loews Annapolis Hotel. "We understand the 'in hot pursuit' need for this information. However, it's not hot pursuit a year after the incident."

After seven days, police would have to obtain a subpoena from a judge to get the records. This is the current procedure for obtainingrecords, one that police say takes too long in emergency situations,often allowing the suspect to escape.

The amended legislation is set for a final vote Oct. 21.

In other action, the council:

* Approved several minor changes to a bill setting new, strict requirements for massage operations, including a reduction in license fees. The legislation, sponsored by Councilman George Bachman, D-Linthicum, requires massage therapists to be licensed by the Department of Inspections and Permits.

The license application fee was reduced from $150 to $100, and the annual fee for a massage technician's license wasdropped from $300 to $50.

The measure is set for a vote Oct. 21.

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