LOCAL GOVERNMENT IGNORING YOU?
Local government agencies routinely disregard the state's Public Records Act, rejecting outright — or stonewalling — requests for indisputably public information more than 75% of the time. Citizens seeking key records are forced either to abandon their pursuit of the records or to take the costly step of hiring a lawyer to sue the agencies to compel disclosure.
In a recent survey, sheriffs' departments were the worst offender, denying requests for clearly public records 80% of the time. This rejection rate compared to 64% for police departments. Cities performed only slightly better, denying 60% of the requests for public documents, while school districts denied access almost 33% of the time.
This public records "audit," designed to assess local government compliance with the California Public Records Act (CPRA), was undertaken by the California First Amendment Coalition (CFAC) and the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) and was supported by volunteer students of the journalism departments from five California universities. Under the supervision of their journalism professors, several dozen university students asked more than 130 local government agencies in the San Francisco Bay Area and the counties of Los Angeles, Orange and San Bernardino for information whose release to the public is clearly mandated by state law.
The records sought were those that track responses by police to citizens' distress calls, why school boards expel students, how cities pursue health and safety violations by slumlords, and why people die in prisons, jails or simply under arrest.
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