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Police chief's arrest underscores agencies' aversion to transparency

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  1. Freedom of Information
The chief of police in Alexandria, Va., was arrested last month on a DUI charge in neighboring Arlington County. A…

The chief of police in Alexandria, Va., was arrested last month on a DUI charge in neighboring Arlington County. A local event, but as the Alexandria Gazette Packet reports, the fallout points to a statewide and even national concern: What’s to be done when police agencies hide even basic evidence of their work from public scrutiny?

The Gazette Packet says some lawmakers in Virginia are considering the question. Several media organizations apparently filed records requests with the Arlington County Police Department for the incident report describing former chief David Baker’s arrest (he has since stepped down.) What they got, according to the Gazette Packet, was a brief, written summary of the information contained in those reports.

Price per summary: $24.

It’s all perfectly legal under Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act, which contains broad exemptions for investigatory police work, the paper reports. Contrast that with Florida, which provides the public with prompt access to arrest and incident reports, as well as to volumes of investigatory materials once a case has moved into the court system. The Gazette Packet notes: "Public-safety officials in Florida say providing access to these documents has not breached the integrity of prosecutions or hampered their ability to fight crime."