Madison Police Department's Records Bureau is a busy place. In 2013 we received approximately 30,000 record requests. We have seen about a 20% increase of record requests over the past two years. We have one Lieutenant on staff whose main responsibility is to review record requests. There are a few other employees within our Department who assist on a very part-time basis but as you can see this is a tremendous task with the number of record requests that are received.
Each record request is reviewed and broken down into one of three categories: absolute right of access, absolute denial of access, possible access after application of the "balancing test." While the general presumption is that records are in fact public, and open for inspection, the balancing test is used to determine whether that presumption of openness is overcome by another over-riding public policy concern which would preclude access. Most records are releasable, although most have some information redacted.
Anyone can request records and the requestors do not need to identify themselves. Knowing who the requestor is however may make a difference in the information released as a requestor has a greater right to information about themselves versus than they do to information about someone else.
There are records that are protected by state or federal law and therefore are not released. These include juvenile investigatory/arrest records, medical and mental health information, information involving informants/undercover officers or information that, if released, could endanger someone's life or safety. Records related to active police investigations, sensitive incidents (sexual assaults, suicides, death investigations, child abuse, etc.) and information involving investigative techniques and intelligence where if released could hamper the ability of law enforcement to effectively conduct its business are types of records we also generally try to protect.
Our Lieutenant of Records obtains legal advice and direction from the City Attorney's Office whenever there is a question in interpretation or application of public records laws.
If you would like more information on our record request process please visit our website at: http://www.cityofmadison.com/police/support/records/
Information for this blog was provided by Records Lieutenant Tony Bitterman.