Law enforcement & public records: why do we keep screwing up?!?!
Florida police agencies being tested.
I am really frustrated. I don't think I've ever been more frustrated. I've got over 1 million tax payer dollar reasons to be frustrated. We learned this week about a man named Joel Chandler who is testing law enforcement agencies in Florida by making simple in-person public records requests to see if they comply with the law. If they don't, he sues; over 100 agencies in fact. What does he ask for? Police station visitor logs. Over 100 times the person behind the window has said "no", you can't have them. WHY??? These aren't the codes to launch the missiles or names of top secret agents. They're not even police reports. What they are IS PUBLIC RECORD along with nearly every other official document in governments possession.
In Florida just about every official record, bit of data or other digital item in government is public record. The only things that cannot be released to the public are those items which are covered by an "exemption" or have been sealed/expunged. And guess what? There is no exemption for visitor logs. Period.
So why do we keep violating the law? Here's how I see it. If you work in law enforcement, there is NO excuse for not having a basic understanding of public records law; at least to the degree that one would know to say, "I'm not sure if this can be released but let me find out for you". The law allows you to do that. But don't ever say "no" when you're not sure. As soon as you do, you have denied a public records request and potentially have violated the law.
The State of Florida has done an excellent job of providing and making readily available the knowledge and resources needed for government employees to learn Florida public records law. It is right on the internet. And furthermore, the State has provided training. And I have provided training including a public records seminar
for police to hundreds of personnel throughout the state. But still, Joel Chandler is able to walk into over 100 police stations and get them to violate public records law. Why?
If you have attended public records training, did you take the knowledge with you and share it with your agency? Did you take the time to educate your personnel about the importance of this issue? Do you research Florida's website
and my website
which has all the resources you need to ensure compliance with the law?
Our failure to know about public records law has cost Florida tax payers over 1 million bucks. That's what the estimate is as a result of Joel Chandlers lawsuits; that's what has been paid in attorney fees, man hours and payouts. And while Joel Chandler may not be right in every case, it's not his fault. It's ours. Nobody else but ours. See the news article here.
Lt. Ed Claughton
PRI Management Grouppolicerecordsmanagement.com
FLORIDA POLICE PUBLIC RECORDS SYMPOSIUM
In light of the above, PRI Management Group will be organizing a 2013 Florida Law Enforcement Public Records Symposium. This 2 day event will include:
- Law enforcement public records training
- Presentations by Florida experts
- Keynote speaker on public records litigation
- Roundtable discussions on liability prevention and best practices
Host Agency Needed
If your agency is interested in hosting this event (with no cost to you) with space to accommodate 75 attendees, please contact me here. A central Florida agency is needed. This will be a truly unique and valuable event. PRI will handle registrations and event organization.
Building a Model Police Records Unit
Crime Stats and UCR for the Police Executive
More locations coming soon in South Carolina, Tennessee and Wisconsin. Sign up for our notices here.
|3 GOLDEN RULES ABOUT FLORIDA PUBLIC RECORDS
You are more likely to get into trouble by not
releasing something than by giving it out. Learn the exemptions!
- The law allows you reasonable time to determine if something is allowed to be released to the public. Never say "no" if your not sure.
Florida is the most open records state around. If you're not comfortable with releasing public records than it's time to reevaluate what your doing and your commitment to the importance of transparency in government. Your taxpayer dollars and mine are at stake.