By Associated Press,
"Fort Lauderdale, Fla. — When the editor of a gay-oriented
newspaper in Florida requested records that he thought should be public,
he cast a wide net, asking that the email of every employee of the
Broward County Sheriff's Office be searched for specific gay slurs over a
"The sheriff's office initially told Jason Parsley that his request
would cost $399,000, take four years and require the hiring of a
dedicated staffer. The response set off a public-records marathon that
lasted nearly a year. The Associated Press featured Parsley's effort
last year during Sunshine Week, a national government-transparency
initiative that takes place each March, and then decided to join forces
with his newspaper, the South Florida Gay News.
"The goal was to determine whether such police emails were indeed
public and, if so, how the public and media could obtain them in a
timely and cost-efficient way.
"After making multiple records request to four Florida law enforcement
agencies, the two news organizations have at least a partial answer,
which could provide a blueprint for other news organizations reporting
on police accountability.
"As law enforcement agencies have come under increased scrutiny in
recent years, media organizations, watchdog groups and others have
become more vigilant about filing public-records requests for emails and
documents, particularly after police shootings. Police agencies have
not always complied, and those that do sometimes put up obstacles,
charging fees that many open-government advocates say are excessive and
aimed at keeping hidden information that should be public.
"'They throw up ridiculous costs, ridiculous delays as a roadblock,'
said Barbara Petersen, head of Florida's First Amendment Foundation. 'If
you throw out a humongous number, the person is going to walk away,'
particularly private citizens who often do not have the money to hire
lawyers or the know-how to challenge inflated fees.
"In many states, including Florida, government agencies can waive
records fees if they deem releasing the information in the public
interest. While it is routine for media organizations and others to seek
such waivers, it is rare for agencies to grant them.
"Other examples of excessive fees abound in Florida and elsewhere."
Read more: http://www.jsonline.com/news/statepolitics/police-agencies-obstacles-can-stymie-open-records-requests-b99689272z1-372273061.html