Bill Myers of The Examiner notes this morning that District police lose track of 1500 open records requests.
The District of Columbia police department allowed more than 1,500 open records requests to “slip through the cracks” — an unacceptable record that flies in the face of D.C.’s open government laws, a leading D.C. Council member said.
Phil Mendelson, D-at large, sent a letter to newly confirmed police Chief Cathy Lanier, demanding that her department account for its handling of Freedom of Information Act requests. According to the police department’s own records, officials lost track of some 1,500 requests in fiscal 2005 and 2006. The department replied to less than one out of every seven FOIA requests it received in those years, Mendelson’s letter states.
It makes you wonder if yesterday’s open records story out of the District–where District law enforcement officials quickly complied with an eight-month old request after a lawsuit was filed–happened not because law enforcement officials were stonewalling on the original request, but because they lost it.
Myers goes on to note:
Civil suits filed for FOIA violations cost D.C. taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars. There are criminal penalties for interfering with a FOIA request, but officials in the attorney general’s office told The Examiner the office has never opened an investigation, let alone filed charges.
According to the Open Government Guide, the District of Columbia offers no proactive assistance to people who file open records requests.
The duty to comply, and training requirements, are described in that guide:
All employees of the District government are responsible for compliance with the provisions of the D.C. Act. D.C. Code Ann. § 2-537(e). Each public body also must designate a Freedom of Information Officer who is to receive a minimum of 8 hours of training regarding implementation and compliance with the D.C. Act. § 2-538(d). Each year, the Mayor requests from each public body and submits to the D.C. Council a report covering the public record disclosure activities of each public body during the preceding fiscal year. § 2-538(a).