Seattle Police Cameras – The Public Records Blame Game

When you have a city as large as Seattle, distributed records are inevitable. But that doesn’t mean that public records requests need to turn into a game of finger pointing. The police department first tells me that the Purchasing department has the records I am looking for. The Purchasing department tells me the Police and IT department has the records. Seattle City Light and Department of Transportation are both several days late in responding. When does it end?

As of Monday, the person who has the records is “out of the office for a couple weeks”. If the city is big enough to have such fractured records, how are they still small enough to have only one person responsible for a subset of those records?

Unfortunately this means I’m going to have to make a formal appeal tomorrow. I am a great fan of small, transparent government. The larger any organization becomes, the easier it becomes to hide information, intentional or not. I’m not convinced the lack of transparency is intentional, but the whole premise that the camera system isn’t being used to spy on citizens requires a trust of the police department. In this case, the department should be erring on the side of too much information rather than not enough. If the Police department is unwilling to release the records, the assumption must be that something is being hidden. That doesn’t bode well for a trusting relationship.

Here is the latest response from the Seattle Police regarding my request for the missing configuration information.

Subject: RE: Public Records Request: Wireless Mesh Network
Date: Mon, 25 Mar 2013 08:27:34 -0700
To: Andrew Pilloud

Mr Pilloud,

I am still awaiting a response. It appears that the persons who have access to this information are out of the office for a couple of weeks. Therefore we still need additional time to research and respond to your request. We anticipate a response to your request on or about April 15, 2013.

This additional time is used to research this request, collect responsive records, and/or prepare records for dissemination. Please note: Seattle Police Department currently receives approximately 4,000 public disclosure requests annually. The current volume of Public Disclosure Requests combined with SPD staffing and City-wide budget cuts requires this additional time.

If you have any questions, please contact the Public Disclosure Desk at 206-684-5481.