Public Access to Law Enforcement Information
Who: Sixty-one volunteers from seven newspapers, two broadcast news organizations, a watchdog organization (League of Women Voters, Oakland), and two California State University journalism departments (Sacramento and Northridge), all trained and coordinated by Californians Aware, a Sacramento-based public interest organization.
What: A follow-up to the systematic survey completed in January 2007 of the openness of law enforcement agencies to sharing information about themselves with citizens in their local communities, including but not limited to their compliance with state public information law.
When: Written requests mailed on October 15, 2007, and visits conducted on October 16, 2007, with a window for responses accepted through November 4, 2007.
Where: One hundred sixteen agencies in 21 of California’s 58 counties, from San Diego to Siskiyou: 114 police and sheriff’s departments and 2 California Highway Patrol area offices. The relatively reduced size of this audit follow-up is due to a reduction of volunteer support compared to the original audit.
Why: To document and compare the relative openness of law enforcement agencies to the public scrutiny that is the right of every Californian, especially when those asking about crimes, arrests and other facts are not representatives of the news media. Also to answer the question: Do those charged with enforcing the law know and heed the laws requiring open government? For the past several decades, corporations in the retail and hospitality sectors, and even some health clinics, have increasingly used “secret” or “mystery” shoppers — trained observers sent by market research firms in the guise of patrons or patients — to report back to the company on such realities as the knowledge, professionalism and customer skills of its public contact staff. See, for example,“Secret Shoppers Help Businesses,” http://chronicle.augusta.com/stories/020700/abc_secret.shtml. Audits of public agencies’ public information practices are simply one variation of this approach — but unlike the business services, they are provided at no cost to government or to the taxpayer.
View the training materials provided to each auditor and an explanation of each request (oral and written).
Search our database for reports on specific agencies.
View the results and our report from the first round of this audit exercise.
View a statistical breakdown of the results.
Link to the media coverage of this project.