From the Fall 2002 issue of The News Media & The Law, page 38.
Since the late 1990s, news organizations and advocacy groups have put their state public records laws to the test.
Each study sought different records from a variety of agencies, but most found that government agencies failed to comply with requests for even the most basic records. Law enforcement often put up the biggest barrier to records access.
Open & Shut
Auditors checked for records at schools, jails, law enforcement offices and planning offices. Police refused requests nearly half the time.
Unlocking the Public’s Business
Participants found that compliance with records requests ranged from 50 percent at health offices to 86 percent at city offices.
For the Record…
Out of 46 requests to schools and city and county agencies, 19 government agencies complied with requests.
Public Records Denied
Reporters surveyed 25 agencies in five counties. They found that 53 percent of the agencies complied.
Your Right to Know
In all 63 counties auditors found that local government agencies failed to comply with state public records law a third of the time.
Access to Public Records Survey
Results revealed a 22 percent compliance rate.
Georgia’s Right to Know
Auditors found that 44 percent of law enforcement offices and schools complied, while cities, counties and universities complied 90 percent of the time.
Your Records, Their Rules
Audit results show that records were denied one out of four times. Arrest records were most often denied.
Open Records, Closed Doors
Reporters tested compliance in all 92 counties. Sixty-six sheriffs refused to release crime reports.
Open Records Survey
Reporters sought meeting minutes and police logs. Most agencies complied. The study also found excessive copying fees.
Kansas Public Access Project
The survey showed requests were granted 84 percent of the time. In most cases, sheriffs offices refused to provide requested records.
Auditors obtained records such as school superintendent contracts, sheriffs’ expenses and nursing home inspections one out of four times.
Reporters were denied access to records three times out of four in 37 cities checked.
Freedom of Information Audit
Jail records, superintendent records and city council minutes were sought from agencies. Auditors succeeded 70 percent of the time.
Fewer than half the 38 sheriffs complied with requests for jail dockets and arrest records.
Compliance with Sunshine Law…
The State Auditor checked access to records from 200 other state offices. The denial rate was 44 percent.
New Jersey, 1999
Public Access Denied
Requests were denied half the time by the 601 agencies checked, which included cities, school districts and police.
New Mexico, 2000
Inspection of Public Records Act
A check of 210 government agencies in all 33 counties found that three in every 10 requests were successful.
The People’s Records
Citizens and reporters collaborated to check state agencies. Nearly half of the time, requesters were denied records.
Open Records Survey
Three times out of four, state and local officials complied with public records requests. Law enforcement fared worst.
Reporters were denied requests 58 percent of the time in 40 counties checked.
Rhode Island, 1998, 1999
Access to Public Records
A study conducted by college students found that law enforcement agencies were worst at turning over records, with a 35 percent compliance rate. A 1999 follow-up study found better access to police logs.
South Carolina, 2000
South Carolina FOIA Audit
The audit found a 70 percent compliance rate for the state agencies. Sheriffs and mayors’ offices denied public records requests most often.
South Dakota, 2002
South Dakota Open Records Audit
Of all 66 counties tested, the audit found that law enforcement agencies were the worst in complying with public records requests.
Closed Doors often Conceal Open Records
The Corpus Christi Caller Times audited 100 agencies. More than half of the agencies violated the law by denying access to public records.
Uncovering State Secrets
Reporters requested five different records in135 political subdivisions. The most difficult record to get was the high school football coach’s salary.
Auditors requested crime reports, lists of registered sex offenders, property assessment records, superintendent contracts and other documents in 39 counties. Law enforcement denied half the requests for property crime records.
West Virginia, 2002
Reporters requested information from officials in 55 counties. They found that agencies complied about half the time.
Requesters traveled to all 72 counties to request information from officials. They found a 74 percent compliance rate with their requests.