The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel sued the Milwaukee Police Department Thursday in a dispute over fees and delays under Wisconsin's open records law, according to court documents.
Reporters Gina Barton and Ben Poston claim they were subjected to excessive fees and unreasonable delay while conducting an independent examination of department crime statistics beginning in May 2010.
Poston was told his request for 100 selected incident reports, which he had received at no charge in a previous instance, would cost about $600 to cover the time it took to locate the records and review each report for non-disclosable information.
Barton, who made a similar open records request, was informed that the newspaper would be charged more than $3,500 and that police staff would not be able to work more than eight hours per week on her request.
“It would have been over $4,000 to fulfill our request. If they were only going to allot us three hours a week, it was going to take us nine months. So we saw that as excessive cost and that they were delaying our request,” Poston said.
The department argued that time and manpower restraints as well as competing inquiries prevented it from spending more time dealing with the requests. But Journal Sentinel Managing Editor George Stanley said that this is a symptom of years of whittling away at the state’s open records law.
“Here at a time when records should be more accessible and easier to obtain and less expensive for agencies to provide because of the digital world, the costs are going up dramatically and agencies are, in some cases we believe, being arbitrary to their own purposes in charging and announcing what fees we’ll have to pay and what they’ll be willing to do with an open records request,” he said.
"The Milwaukee Police Department looks forward to having a court provide guidance on whether taxpayers or the requestor should pay for extremely broad and time-consuming public records requests," Chief Flynn said in a statement released by his office.