Tuesday, October 26, 2010

oh hey public records law violation.

I recently took another escapade down to Washington, and this time, I was disenchanted.

I met with the police force and records that should be public and easy to access were so much harder than I anticipated.

I understand that certain information should be withheld from the public. That makes sense.

And maybe I've been spoiled working with the Chapel Hill police.

But I was stunned when I saw on the department walls that a single police report costs $5. That's 50 times more than the cost of a Chapel Hill police department.

And to me, it feels like a public records law violation.

Then beyond that, unlike Chapel Hill police reports, you can't simply look through all the reports. Because they have to manually decide on each report whether or not to release all the details when asked for it, you can only get a police report if you know exactly what you're looking for.

I don't understand how you report on police activity given all these restrictions. I just don't understand how you find any information. If the Washington police had something that for some reason they did not want people to know about, it would be far too easy to hide.

I'm not sure where to go forward from here.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like they are waiting for you to ask the right questions. Ask for the police blotter, which is like an index of all the reports that were filed that day. You may need to tune up on police codes to figure out what it means, but that's better than getting a cold shoulder. Also you may need to insist that you are a journalist and that you require timely access to information. If you have a publisher they can help lean on the department, otherwise just writing about your experience can help.