Yesterday I reported the first three of four overall lessons from CalAwares audits of law enforcement agencies compliance with the California Public Records Act. Those conclusions were that
too many police and sheriffs departments, contrary to law, demanded identification and a statement of purpose before disclosing to non-journalists basic information about particular recent crimes;
too many departments in any event say that non-journalists cannot get information from a crime report unless they are the victimagain, a view contrary to law; but that
our recent second audit showed improved performance overall, and some top grades in smaller community departments, with larger departments often still challenged.
Our final observation deals with a glaring anomaly, but one that seems to be corrected in many cases as soon as the departments legal advisor becomes aware of the practice.
Overcharging the Victim?
Those involved in a traffic accident or victimized by a crime have but one source for the official record confirming their experience to supply to an insurance company or the states crime victims restitution fund. There is no alternative supply of such documents if they do not purchase them from the department that investigated the accident or crime. Moreover, the great majority of such unfortunate persons will probably need such records only once, and have little or no incentive to question the amount charged to obtain them.
Accordingly, the second audit found numerous examples of departments requiring such requesters to pay a fee for crime or accident reports far beyond what the law allows as the direct cost of duplication. The most accommodating policy found was to charge crime and accident victims nothing at all, such as in Davis, Santa Rosa, Carlsbad, Galt, Glendora (for the first five pages), Santa Clara Sheriff (for the first 50 pages), and Sacramento (for the first 49 pages).
The lawful and still citizen-friendly policyto charge the same low per page fee to all requesters for all records copiesis the standard for departments like Coronado, Campbell (5 cents), Dublin, Berkeley, Contra Costa Sheriff, Piedmont, Pleasanton (10 cents), Beverly Hills (20 cents), Banning, Redding, South San Francisco and Brentwood (25 cents).
Beyond these simple and reasonable standards is a wide variation of approaches, many of which set a price on crime and accident reports very far beyond what could possibly be a recovery of the direct cost of duplication per page. A sampling of these rates:
Department Per page charge for Crime report fee Accident report fee
Mountain View PD 25 cents $16 $16
Palo Alto PD 12 cents $10 $10
San Diego PD 25 cents $12 $12
Los Gatos PD 50 cents $20 $20
Whittier PD 10 cents $11 $11
San Bernardino PD 15 cents $10 $15
San Diego Sheriff 25 cents $15 $20
San Jose PD 20 cents $15 $15
Los Angeles Sheriff 3 cents $12 $12
CHP 30 cents $10 $10
Considering the number of audited departments that provided no (or incomplete) information on their fees, local news organizations or citizens interested in their departments pricing policies should check the audit spreadsheet or inquire themselves. ??
An even more striking set of high charges, apparently well beyond direct duplication costs (considering the economies of high-speed tape dubbing and digital photography), appeared in the amounts charged for copies of videotapes, audiotapes and photographs. One explanation may be that the typical requesters for these kinds of record are attorneys who can pass the cost on to their clients, who in turn may have little inclination to challenge these fees.? A sampling of these rates:?
Department Videotape copy Audiotape Copy Photograph
Davis PD $65 $30/30 minutes $20
Brentwood PD $45 $45 $33
Newark PD $60 $60 $22
Pacifica PD $40 $40 $10
Palo Alto PD $64 $64 $35
Antioch PD $35 $35 $35
Livermore PD $63 $41 $45
Concord PD $42 $107 $11.50/disk
Los Gatos PD $48 $48 $48/first 3
Beverly Hills PD $120 $70 $1.10-$5.70
Manhattan Beach PD $135 $135 $26.50
San Bruno PD $63 $63 $39
Santa Monica PD $69 $13 $59
Again, considering the number of audited departments that provided no or incomplete information on their rates, local news organizations or citizens interested in their departments pricing policies should check the audit spreadsheet or inquire themselves. ??