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A look at state records audits

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  1. Freedom of Information
From the Fall 2002 issue of The News Media & The Law, page 38.

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.

Arizona, 2002

Open & Shut

Auditors checked for records at schools, jails, law enforcement offices and planning offices. Police refused requests nearly half the time.

Arkansas, 1999

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.

California, 2002

For the Record…

Out of 46 requests to schools and city and county agencies, 19 government agencies complied with requests.

California, 2002

Public Records Denied

Reporters surveyed 25 agencies in five counties. They found that 53 percent of the agencies complied.

Colorado, 2000

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.

Connecticut, 1999

Access to Public Records Survey

Results revealed a 22 percent compliance rate.

Georgia, 1999

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.

Illinois, 1999

Your Records, Their Rules

Audit results show that records were denied one out of four times. Arrest records were most often denied.

Indiana, 1997

Open Records, Closed Doors

Reporters tested compliance in all 92 counties. Sixty-six sheriffs refused to release crime reports.

Iowa, 2000

Open Records Survey

Reporters sought meeting minutes and police logs. Most agencies complied. The study also found excessive copying fees.

Kansas, 1999

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.

Maryland, 2000

Access Maryland

Auditors obtained records such as school superintendent contracts, sheriffs’ expenses and nursing home inspections one out of four times.

Massachusetts, 2001

Access Denied

Reporters were denied access to records three times out of four in 37 cities checked.

Minnesota, 2000

Freedom of Information Audit

Jail records, superintendent records and city council minutes were sought from agencies. Auditors succeeded 70 percent of the time.

Mississippi, 2000

Mississippi Access

Fewer than half the 38 sheriffs complied with requests for jail dockets and arrest records.

Missouri, 2001

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.

Ohio, 2001

The People’s Records

Citizens and reporters collaborated to check state agencies. Nearly half of the time, requesters were denied records.

Oklahoma, 2000

Open Records Survey

Three times out of four, state and local officials complied with public records requests. Law enforcement fared worst.

Pennsylvania, 2001

Access Denied

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.

Texas, 1998

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.

Virginia, 1998

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.

Washington, 2001

FOI Audit

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

Project Access

Reporters requested information from officials in 55 counties. They found that agencies complied about half the time.

Wisconsin, 1999

FOI Audit

Requesters traveled to all 72 counties to request information from officials. They found a 74 percent compliance rate with their requests.