Tuesday, November 30, 2010

This paint has been tasting of lead!

So I'm actually really kind of looking forward to taking media law.

I'll likely be biting my words junior year when I'm taking the course that's known for its difficulty, but for right now anyway, it's really interesting.

And all of this coming with the fight for public records in Eastern North Carolina will give me some context.

Over Thanksgiving break, a young family friend informed me she was moving to Washington.

My response: Why? Do you know how badly public records laws are violated there??

She says, "I'm a teacher. I don't care."

I looked at N.C. G.S. 162 6.1 today — public records law regarding electronic communication.

All databases a government entity has, we have a right to as much we do public documents. They have to provide a list of what data they have, including all fields, and we have just as much right to them as paper documents.

In light of this, I have revised my letter. Any and all feedback is welcome.

Dear Washington Police Department:

Pursuant to the North Carolina General Statute 132‑1.4 I would like the ability to obtain a copy of each indecent and arrest report within 24 hours after the report is made. I am requesting that they include all information the law requires.

I requested this data in person at the Washington Police Department on Oct. 21. The original reports the department gave me took out the information of the nature of the crime when it covered the "status" codes on top of the property section of the report.

When it was deleted, it was written on top "Deleted in accordance with N.C. G.S. 132 1.4-j". That statute reads:

"(j) When information that is not a public record under the provisions of this section is deleted from a document, tape recording, or other record, the law enforcement agency shall make clear that a deletion has been made. Nothing in this subsection shall authorize the destruction of the original record."

First, on the copy, there is clearly a staple — yet I received no second page. It is not made clear that a deletion has been made. Second, this statute does not allow any and all information to be sensored. N.C. G.S. 134.1.4-c lists the following as things that cannot be censored:

1) The time, date, location, and nature of a violation or apparent violation of the law reported to a public law enforcement agency.

I did not receive on this report the nature of the violation.

I am attaching a copy of the police report I received for reference.

N.C. G.S. 132‑6.2 explicitly states each exception where a government may charge more than the explicit fee of making the copy. Crime reports are not included. I know the Department normally charges $5 per report. The normal costs for the police report range from $.05 to $.25. $5 is excessive. "Actual cost" is limited to direct, chargeable costs related to the reproduction of a public record as determined by generally accepted accounting principles and does not include costs that would have been incurred by the public agency if a request to reproduce a public record had not been made.

I understand that if I seek a copy of this record, there may be a reasonable copying fee. Please inform me of that cost prior to making the copy. I can be reached at 919.455.7739.

In addition to the physical copies of these records, I am requesting access to any and all electronic forms of this information that the department has, including but not limited to spreadsheets, PDF files, word processing documents, databases, digital and image copies. N.C. G.S. 6.1 states:

"Every public agency shall create an index of computer databases compiled or created by that public agency.

The index shall be a public record and shall include, at a minimum, the following information with respect to each database listed therein: a list of the data fields; a description of the format or record layout; information as to the frequency with which the database is updated; a list of any data fields to which public access is restricted; a description of each form in which the database can be copied or reproduced using the agency's computer facilities; and a schedule of fees for the production of copies in each available form."

According to the statute, this request should be acted upon as soon as possible. Please feel free to contact me so we can work out a reasonable date.

If you choose to deny the request, then you are required to respond in writing and state the statutory exception authorizing the withholding of all or part of the public record and the name and title or position of the person responsible for the denial.

Thank you for your assistance on this matter.

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