It’s not hard for a law enforcement agency of any size to serve the
public well by knowing and observing the basics of the California
Public Records Act and treating inquiring citizens with dignity and
respect. While many departments audited last month (with results released this week) seem to have
mastered those essentials, a disturbing minority showed performance so
far below these norms that they almost seem contemptuous of them.
of the best-intentioned departments took CalAware up on its offer of
free training in the past few months, and for these sessions we developed a model policy statement, (legally annotated version free on request) designed to serve three purposes:
putting the chief or sheriff on the record as stating the guidelines and procedures the department will follow to assure prompt, courteous and meaningful responses to information requests;
providing a posted and leafleted briefing on what to expect, addressed directly to the the public; and
providing a clear and concise training reference for department employees dealing with information requests.
While departments sending staff to our training sessions seemed to find the experience positive and helpful, at least one law enforcement
professional organization discouraged its members from participating.
It’s easy to convince departments not to trust an organization
like ours that has the gall to test their legal and professional
performance, assign a grade to the results, and publish it all. But we
know enough now about those doing the best job at sharing information with ordinary citizens to suggest that there is
no shortage of training exemplars in the law enforcement community itself. If there is some way that the best performers could
help brief and bring along the rest, one could not ask for a better
Meanwhile, departments assuming that they can charge citizens
far more than the direct cost of duplication for copies of crime and accident
reports, tapes and photographs need to stop simply taking consultants
recommendations for these inflated fee levels and instead consult their legal
counsel. A class action lawsuit to recover years of fee overcharges
could be extremely costly.