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Richmond Police Go From "F" to "A" in Public Records Request Response

Congratulations to Chief Magnus and the Richmond PD for raising their public records response from an F+ to an A- in 10 months. Hopefully, this trend will apply to other Richmond departments. One thing the City is still struggling with is a policy for email retention.

 

Agencies boost compliance with records requests

  Audits from December and October compare law enforcement's response to inquiries for public information

By Scott Marshall

STAFF WRITER

Article Launched: 11/29/2007 03:01:09 AM PST


A new audit shows that East Bay law enforcement agencies have significantly improved responses to public information requests, nearly a year after a similar audit showed most agencies either did not provide or delayed what should be readily available under California law.

Of the 17 East Bay law enforcement agencies audited in October, all improved, many from a grade of "F" in December.

"We do strive to provide the best customer service, specifically in the records unit," said Contra Costa sheriff's Cmdr. Mike Casten. The sheriff's office received an A+, one of three among East Bay Agencies.

Employees are trained in what the state's public records laws require, he said. "We don't think our customer service has changed at all from the first audit to the second audit," Casten said. Many departments were critical of the initial audit.

In the October audit, the Brentwood and Dublin police departments and the Contra Costa Sheriff's Office scored A+.

Departments in Alameda, Antioch, Berkeley, El Cerrito, Richmond, Oakland and Walnut Creek scored A or A-.

Other East Bay departments included that scored B or B- were Albany, Concord, Hayward, Livermore, Pittsburg and Pleasanton. San Leandro scored C.

The audit was coordinated by Californians Aware, a Sacramento-based group that advocates for transparent government and records access.

"It's encouraging, but I don't think the agencies should get too comfortable," said Emily Francke, executive director of  Californians Aware. "Although there is dramatic improvement, there still is room for improvement."

The audit was conducted in October at 116 agencies in 21 of the state's 58 counties.

A total of 61 volunteers from six newspapers, two broadcast news organizations, the Oakland chapter of the League of Women Voters and the journalism departments of Sacramento State and Cal State Northridge participated.

California law gives the public the right to inspect records that show the time, date and location of occurrence; the time and date of the report; the name and age of the victim (other than certain sex or abuse crime victims); the factual circumstances and a general description of any injuries, property or weapons involved.

Each auditor visited an agency Oct. 16, seeking information on a particular burglary or other property crime identified in advance through call logs or other routine activity reports.

Auditors were instructed to not give a false identity but were told not to reveal their full names or employers unless the law enforcement agency made that an absolute condition to obtain the information.

Written requests for information were mailed the day before oral requests were made.

The agencies were scored on legal compliance and customer service, each on a 100-point scale. Legal compliance was scored on what information was or was not provided and copying costs, which by law is limited to the "direct cost of duplication," and whether an agency took more than 10 days to allow a record to be inspected.

Some departments scored lower on legal compliance but much higher in customer service.

For instance, Livermore scored 73, or C, on legal compliance and 100 on customer service for an A+, thus earning a combined average score of 86.5 for an overall B.

The only As scored in legal compliance among the East Bay agencies were Brentwood, the Contra Costa Sheriff's Office, Dublin, El Cerrito and Oakland.

"Anything below 100 in legal compliance means they broke the law in some way," Francke said. "You still have quite a bit of area of legal noncompliance."

Duplication costs varied.

For instance, Antioch provides the first four pages for free and then charges 20 cents per page for five or more. Concord charges $3.50 for a crime report or accident report. Hayward police charge $12 for an accident report; Richmond, $10.50.

Walnut Creek charged 10 cents per page for a general public record and does not charge victims for crime or accident reports.

But videotape, audiotape and photograph copies varied widely. Antioch charges $35 each; Brentwood, from $33 to $45; Concord, $42, $107 and $11.50 per disk, respectively.

Reach Scott Marshall at 925-945-4782 or smarshall@bayareanewsgroup.com.

DEPARTMENT GRADES

All are police departments, unless otherwise indicated:

Agency

December

October

Alameda

F-

A-

Albany

D-

B

Antioch

B-

A-

Benicia

F

B

Berkeley

F-

A-

Brentwood

C+

A+

Concord

C

B

Contra Costa Sheriff

D

A+

Dublin

D+

A+

El Cerrito

B

A

Fairfield

F

B

Fremont

F-

A-

Hayward

F-

B-

Livermore

F+

B

Oakland

F-

A-

Piedmont

F-

A-

Pittsburg

D

B+

Pleasanton

F-

B+

Richmond

F+

A-

San Jose

F-

C

San Leandro

F-

C

Solano County Sheriff

D-

B

Vacaville

F-

A

Walnut Creek

B

A-