Defenders: Cost, complications restricting access to public records

DETROIT - The Local 4 Defenders wanted to see who had been suspended or fired, and why, in five metro Detroit agencies. So, five Freedom of Information Acts were issued, and five very different responses were received.

According to records, in the past 24 months, dozens of law enforcement officers have faced disciplinary action for offenses such as abuse of power, sleeping on the job, excessive force, drinking on the job, conduct unbecoming and insubordination.

The good news? It appears to be just a few bad apples.

But some agencies aren't sharing their disciplinary numbers.

The Defenders sent FOIA requests for all disciplinary reports from 2012 and 2013 to the sheriff departments in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb, as well as the Michigan State police and the Detroit police.

The Detroit Police Department denied the request, saying the information is exempt from disclosure by a statute.

Macomb County said releasing the records would violate privacy laws.

Wayne County said they would release the records only if names were redacted and for a cost of $300.

In Oakland County, a free summary was provided, but they suggested we request full reports only for specific cases of interest.

Michigan State Police said the records could be released but only with the names blocked out, and for a cost of $6,000.

Lawmakers told the Defenders that they are constantly getting complaints from the public about the increasing costs and complications in obtaining records that are supposed to be available.

Rep. Tom McMillin (R-District 45) told the Defenders he thought it was ridiculous that the responses varied so vastly between all five agencies.

"These people work for us. We've got to make sure we get our information," McMillin said.

McMillin sits on a committee that is trying to pass two bills that would make it harder to deny requests or charge exuberant rates.

The Defenders tried again. The second time around, only the number of law enforcement personnel that had faced disciplinary actions was requested – no names, photos or full reports.

Macomb County provided a free report and Wayne County reduced its price, but the Detroit police and state police asked for an extension of time to consider the requests.

If you believe more access needs to be given to public records, write your elected representative and tell them that.

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