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City-Wide Notable Calls

Statement Regarding Recent Opinion Article on Release of MPD Records

May 12, 2023 12:23 PM

The opinion article published in the Isthmus on May 8, 2023 titled "Wrongful delays shield Madison police records from public view" is a little misleading. Current requests for calls for service, call notes, and contacts are completed in less than two weeks. Case reports and simple requests are currently processed in 6-7 weeks.

Timeliness in providing records is important for transparency, responsiveness, good governance, and ensuring compliance with public records laws. Several years ago, the Madison Police Department recognized the need to improve the processes surrounding our response to records requests, and began planning. Last year the Mayor and Council approved an additional staff position. This position was filled, bringing staff total to eleven who respond to over 32,000 requests.

The smallest portion of records requested, personnel records and homicides cases, require the longest time to process. These records are often several hundred to thousands of pages. A 14-month response is only for these two categories. The simple fact is this type of request takes longer, not just because of volume, but also because they are harder to do and have more complicated factors impacting what is released.

The Madison Police Department knows the number of public records requests of all types has increased, and we have made efforts to diligently respond by converting a position to meet needs, requesting and receiving an additional staff member to meet needs, spreading the word about the challenges, and are actively working to access technology improvements that could increase productivity. Just like all Madison agencies, continuous Improvement is an essential part of everything we do.

Law enforcement records are a unique kind of public record; the records release process needs to be done carefully, ensuring that information about children and victims is protected, and no individual's privacy is impinged. Victims of a crime, those accused of crimes, and those who have witnessed crimes all deserve the dignity of a comprehensive review of the records that often reflect the most difficult days of peoples' lives.

The Madison Police Department's Public Records Supervisor serves on the Wisconsin Public Records Board and is well versed in the statute and its requirements.

MPD remains committed to accessibility of records and transparency in policing.

Posted by: Chief Barnes

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