The high cost of Cambridge police records

The Cambridge Police Department has adopted a restrictive policy that would force the Cambridge Chronicle to pay more than $1,200 to obtain public records of police activity for most of July, according to a story by Chronicle reporter Erin Smith. What’s more, the policy may be in violation of the Massachusetts public-records law.

Like all Massachusetts police departments, Cambridge’s makes a bare-bones incident log freely available to members of the public; it is, in fact, online. But state law exempts police departments from having to release detailed information about incidents that are under investigation.

What is and isn’t public information, and when it must be made public, are complicated matters that I’m not going to get into here. But the law does require that the public log — also known as the police blotter — contain the “names and addresses of persons arrested and charges against such persons.”

According to the Chronicle, though:

The Cambridge Police Department already keeps a daily police log online maintained by a student intern, but over the past several months, the Chronicle noticed that previously available information — such as the ages and addresses of arrested people, the addresses where crimes occurred and the description of suspects — was being withheld from the public.

In quickly scanning through a few days’ worth of the Cambridge log, I found several examples of arrestees whose addresses (and ages) were listed. I couldn’t find any whose address was not listed. I have no reason to doubt the Chronicle’s reporting, but it’s important to point that out.

The fees are another matter. Charging $1,215 for public records is an outrageous breach of the public’s right to know. The police department’s lawyer, Kelly Downes, cites the cost of compiling and copying those records. But the standard practice with many police departments is to allow reporters to view the originals at the police station, at no cost to anyone.

Given the embarrassment over the department’s recent arrest of Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates in his own home, you’d think that everyone would be on his or her best behavior these days. Well, think again.

And by the way — we’re still waiting to hear how Sgt. James Crowley, who arrested Gates, managed to incorporate information into his report from a woman who insists she never talked with Crowley. Maybe Downes hasn’t had a chance to work out a price for that particular piece of information.

51 thoughts on “The high cost of Cambridge police records

  1. O'Reilly

    I too am surprised the CPD is pushing back so hard on providing police logs that include the address of the incident without charging an exorbitant fee.Is it not true that every single dollar spent on salaries, training, benefits, police stations, maintenance and police is from taxpayers' dollars? Is it not also true that the law is clear on what information the police maintain that is defined as public information?A friend of mine wrote Commissioner Hass via the CPD web site and asked if the discrepency between James Crowley's Incident Report and Lucia Whalen's testimony would be resolved promptly. Commissioner Hass has not responded. It has been over two weeks since he wrote. My concern is that the CPD, like the BPD, have a culture which tolerates "testilying" on incident reports and in court testimony to cover for mistakes made in police procedure during the investigation, search or arrest. If so, this practice leads to distrust of the police and diminution of the civil rights of citizens, the very rights the police are sworn to uphold and protect.

  2. lkcape

    The conclusion that you are directing, Dan, may be something very different once you explore the matter further. 1. To which log is the Cambridge Chronicle referring? The on-line log (a convenience) or the the hard-copy (required) maintained at the station?Nice if they were the same. However, unless the logs are downright contradictory, you facts are a little thin if you want to hang the CPD by the statements so-far made.2. Has the CPD denied the Cambridge Chronicle access to the hard copy of the log at the station?No statement that access has been denied.Moral indignation may be premature.3. A charge of $1215 for a public record is indeed outrageous if the records being asked for comprise only 5 or 10 pages. But if those records comprise 20K pages, that cost is much more reasonable, like about 6¢ a page, a competitive rate.Isn't it premature to hit the panic button before you have perspective?

  3. David Harris

    To answer some of your questions:1.) The CPD maintains that they only have one log: the online version. We sent an intern over to the station a few weeks ago to see if the CPD was even keeping a hard copy or electronic version that could be easily accessed by a member of the public. He presented himself only as a member of the public, not a reporter or intern. The department's answer? Either go online or contact the Public Information Office. The fact is, we don't know if they're keeping two separate logs (one public and one internal with detailed information).2.) The police log is only available online, according to CPD. And by the way, there is no law that says police logs must be kept in only in hard copy or only in electronic form. 3.) The police dept. should be keeping a detailed log, free and available to the public. The fact that we were charged so much money does not bode well for the public.Is it premature for us to report this? I don't think so. And here's my reasoning: we've noticed the dept. redacting more items, leaving items out of the log and saying they aren't going to tell us exact addresses where police are dispatched. We had been e-mailing back and forth for months prior to this, letting Kelly Downes and the commissioner know our perspective and asking why certain information was excluded. In fact, we had met with the police commissioner and Downes on a few occasions over the past couple years to discuss certain issues we had with the log. Each time, our relationship seemed smooth and information was still coming out of the dept.But, over the past few weeks, we heard from readers unhappy about certain information not being in crime stories or asking why those details weren't there. That's when it was determined we should at least explore the possibility of a story (hence our public records request for the log). Downes' latest response to our police log public records request — with an exorbitant fee attached — added more fuel to our skepticism. I think in this case, the department is clearly not being forthcoming. And it's our job to find out why. Is their argument that public safety is at risk if they reveal that an armed robbery took place at 1600 Mass. Ave. vs. Mass. Ave.? We think not and we're hopeful the state will agree with us.

  4. mike_b1

    Speaking of perspective, 20,000 pages divided by 31 days equals 645.2 pages per day. I have no idea how many officers Cambridge has, but it is beyond reason that even the most prolific of small city police forces would generate so much paper.If the CP were generating that kind of volume, they would have a much bigger problem on their hands than wrongful arrests.

  5. LFNeilson

    This has always been a touchy area. Some concerns include prejudicial pre-trial publicity, identity of juveniles arrested, identity of victims, and information on an on-going investigation. In many cases, the police will insist on redacting information, which could have the newspaper paying for a page of heavy black lines but no information. My experience is that police are most comfortable releasing the log if they know the reporter well enough to be sure the information will be handled responsibly. In a large department, things can become quite impersonal. The department must obey the law, but they can be stinkers about timing. For instance, they can release the log just after the paper has gone to press. The paper is right to fight, but a smart reporter will find a way to get the information without making a stink.$1200 is outrageous, no question.zzzzzzz

  6. Kathy Podgers

    The issue is not the adress of the suspect, but the address of the crime, or the location to which the police responded.There may be several reasons the City may want to supress this info, to avoid the public knowing that trouble happens frequently at or near certain busnesses, parks, or neighborhoods, and to protect property values. (people don't want to live in high crime neighborhoods.)

  7. lkcape

    My comment was directed at Dan, not the Chronicle.of course it should be reported; it is premature to draw conclusions.One point though, if the police "should" keep a log, why is it not a "requirement".I do not dispute the efficacy of it being "desirable" for police to keep a log. I would push for its requirement. The leap, however, from question and critique to condemnation that Dan is suggesting seems a bit far.I would agree Mr. B_1 that 20K pages a month would be excessive. But the point of the calculation is that that $1,251 for a handful of pages is a lot, and quite a different thing for a host of pages.Let me rephrase it: the $1,251 represents a cost per file (500 files, according to the article) of $2.43 per file.I would hasten that most of Cambridge spends that much for a cuppa at Starbucks on a daily basis.Now, let's take the "free" access to public reports another step. CPD supplies The Chronicle with their copy at no charge, and The Chronicle writes a controversial article based on the released material. The The Herald and The Globe, not wanting to just sit on the sidelines of this juicy story, go to the CPD and each demand a copy of the same set of files.Is the CPD supposed to just run a print-shop to satisfy these demands FOR FREE? If not, what is a "reasonable charge"?Municipal budgets are strained to the breaking point; aren't police department costs contributing to the strain?Where's the balance?Or is it just idealistic claptrap and entitlement that are on offer?LFN's thought that the smart reporter will get the story without making the stink is likely true.But that may be the old, and dying, way of doing business. Note to Reporter: If you are worried about the soles of the Ferrigamos wearing out prematurely, wear the Weejuns.

  8. Steve G.

    We did a study of RI stations in college in 2007 – Although we were journalism students, we went around to local police stations as just members of the public and asked for the last three pages of the police log. Almost none of them complied without asking some questions, and at one station, a kid got detained for questioning for about 15 minutes. Good times, good times.$1,200 is really impractical, unless Cambridge is using some ancient, non-computerized system. Most Rhode Island stations can print a dozen arrests with the SSNs, victims and juveniles redacted within a few minutes, or black out the sensitive information and make a copy within seconds.

  9. the zak

    Even Cambridge Public Library delays, denies, deflects enquiries for the minutes/notes of the last public meeting of our library board. Our public libraries talk intellectual freedom but come up short not providing their public records. We need to strengthen access to FOI freedom of information public records, sunshine open public meetings.

  10. Dan Kennedy

    Kathy: You may be right. But the Chronicle specifically reported that, in some cases, the address of the arrestee was not provided, even though that is required by law.

  11. LFNeilson

    What's the new way? You can file complaints and get official statements, but if you can't dig, all you'll have is the official statements. A good reporter keeps track of what's happening, so when the pieces fall into place, they're not random dominoes. If you're the new kid on the beat, the cops won't give you much that you'll understand. But hang in there. You won't be the new kid forever.If this type of reporting is going bye-bye, we are, too. Good reporting is vital to democracy.zzzzzzzz

  12. mike_b1

    With the Internet, the question becomes, why don't municipalities simply enter everything directly online, versus into an internal database? Then anyone could get what they needed without having to use "important" police time, and the cops can go protecting and serving their donuts.

  13. O-FISH-L

    Dan, not everyone has an address. The homeless who refuse to go to a shelter, for instance. A major but seldom reported problem with the sex offender registry is the existence of registrants with no fixed abode. Some are registering from "park bench, Boston" or "in the woods, Plymouth" as their address. Also, in communities with many do-gooders like Cambridge, certain folks take great offense when an arrestee is listed as homeless, so to avoid any wrath, officers may leave the address line blank in those cases. The law specifically prohibits listing the address of the handicapped, bedridden etc., presumably because they are perceived as vulnerable and easy prey.Secondly, the request for one of our larger police departments to turn over a months worth of records smacks of both laziness and unreasonableness. How about sending a reporter once a day, or once a week even? How about going to Radio Shack and buying a scanner? As the Gates incident revealed, Cambridge Police speak in plain language over the radio, with few codes or unusual nomenclature. It amazes me that today's reporters seem to rely heavily on the PD Media Relations office, only to be given little if any info, when names, DOBs, SSNs and a virtual play-by-play of major incidents is going over the easily monitored police airwaves.My guess is the $1200 fee covers not only the price of copies, but the cost of an officer to make sure that no sensitive info is taken out of the room in the reporter's trousers and socks, a la Sandy Berger.lkcape, here is the pertinent state law and what it requires: Chapter 41: Section 98F. Daily logs; public records"Each police department and each college or university to which officers have been appointed pursuant to the provisions of section sixty-three of chapter twenty-two C shall make, keep and maintain a daily log, written in a form that can be easily understood, recording, in chronological order, all responses to valid complaints received, crimes reported, the names, addresses of persons arrested and the charges against such persons arrested. All entries in said daily logs shall, unless otherwise provided in law, be public records available without charge to the public during regular business hours and at all other reasonable times; provided, however, that any entry in a log which pertains to a handicapped individual who is physically or mentally incapacitated to the degree that said person is confined to a wheelchair or is bedridden or requires the use of a device designed to provide said person with mobility, shall be kept in a separate log and shall not be a public record nor shall such entry be disclosed to the public."

  14. Dan Kennedy

    Dan, not everyone has an address. The homeless who refuse to go to a shelter, for instance.Fish: Did you read what the CPD's lawyer said?

  15. Mike from Norwell

    Dan, let's try and quantify $1200. Standard legal practice charge is 25 cents per page for copying costs, so $1200 represents 4800 pages; divided by 30 days, we're talking 160 pages generated per day. Cambridge has what population? Think 160 pages isn't an excessive burn rate at all given a population of 100,000 in Cambridge for ALL copies of arrest reports. Sometimes you have to pull out the old calculator to figure out whether a figure is reasonable or not.

  16. Dan Kennedy

    Mike from Norwell: I wrote that the Chronicle ought to be able to send a reporter to the police station and view all public records there, with no copying charges necessary. That is standard practice in many communities.Chronicle editor David Harris has described a troubled relationship with the CPD. I invite him to follow up by explaining specifically why going to the station would not be a practical solution.

  17. mike_b1

    O-Fish and Mike from Norwell:And what's the cost if they just write the report and post it right to the web?

  18. O'Reilly

    O-Fish, thanks for posting "Chapter 41: Section 98F. Daily logs; public records"…recording, in chronological order, all responses to valid complaints received, crimes reported, the names, addresses of persons arrested and the charges against such persons arrested. All entries in said daily logs shall, unless otherwise provided in law, be public records available without charge to the public during regular business hours and at all other reasonable times…The statute does not specifically call for the address of the incident to be reported. At the same time, we know that the address of the incident is recorded as part of the police record. The log as it is posted on line appears to be edited by hand as opposed to generated from the database by software. Including the address of the incident would provide a more complete record of the incident. The address of the incident is part of the public record. Although the address of the incident is not required explicitly under the statute, it is recorded, and it is public information. David Harris comment tells me that the conversation between the public and CPD has been occurring over a long period of time, and that the CPD has been giving the public a tin ear and a stiff arm. For example, talk to the public records officer and then, talk to the lawyer. CPD has not been responsive. I wonder if they forget who pays their salaries. Since Police Commissioners are not elected but hired by the mayor, I would have suggested that the paper take this to the mayor before they go to the court but it's too late for that.

  19. Amused

    Interesting commentary from people who don't know what a "one-one" is.The most interesting part of this is that the lowest paid employee of the Cambridge Police Dept. who could compile this information is paid $40 per hour or $83K per year.In reality, all the police log information requested is entered in databases which can be sorted, printed and distributed. The maximum copying fee is 50 cents per page. Once a simple data base inquiry is created, the cost of accessing is about one minute for an employee making, say 17 dollars an hour. There is no need to review reports or redact anything when all that is requested is the log information.It's just another case of power-mad police thinking they are above the law. Clearly the cost estimate was designed and intended to restrict public access to public information

  20. lkcape

    The statute also only requires that the log be made AVAILABLE to the public, it DOES NOT require the department to copy it for the requester.The Chronicle's objections appear to be an attempt to avoid the reportorial cost of doing business.

  21. mike_b1

    It has nothing to do with the reportorial cost of doing business and every thing to do with public records being made, you know, public.This isn't a privacy issue or a manpower issue: It's a programming issue. For $300 and a couple of hours, any programmer worth his salt could write a tool whereby the files are simultaneously saved to the police dept's internal database while also being pushed live to the web.

  22. lkcape

    If the material is available for inspection, it is available. If the Chronicle elects not to avail themselves of the opportunity, it is their problem.What part of that, Mr. B_1, becomes the responsibility of the department, or for that matter, of the taxpayer?If you are denied access, then you have a complaint. Until then, it's just whining.Put a slightly more direct way: You want it? Go get it.

  23. David Harris

    Dan,The department is no longer keeping a hard copy of the log at the station. The online version is the only one they are compiling and putting out there for the public. The log is compiled by a student intern, who's overseen by a police spokesman, who's pretty much shifted responsibility of public information to the department's lawyer, Kelly Downes.As far as the questions about reporter responsibility go, our crime reporter is in constant communication with the intern in the station's office. And by the way, the commissioner has previously told me he'd like to eventually "professionalize" the PIO office, but that hasn't happened yet. When I was a reporter back in the day in Boston, the police log was always available and always complete: names of people who were arrested, their ages, their addresses, addresses where police were dispatched and why. Why should Cambridge be so different?Hope that answers some questions…

  24. mike_b1

    lckape, I understand that for those who can't do math this may be difficult to comprehend, but the cost to enter the data are the same regardless of WHERE those data reside. So why make the data 1) difficult to access and 2) expensive to obtain? Unless they are trying to hide something.The police — who are paid by and whom answer to the public — think that it's OK to force citizens to pay outrageous sums. That makes no sense, regardless of how kneejerk your ideology is.All court filings and proceedings, regardless of how obscure the district, have been online for years. I can go to PACER and learn all about your bankruptcy and probate problems. No reason why the cops can't follow the same setup. Again, except if they are trying to hide something.Which they usually are.

  25. Kathy Podgers

    @ O'Reilly {{The statute does not specifically call for the address of the incident to be reported. At the same time, we know that the address of the incident is recorded as part of the police record. }}The police call center generates a report of where police are dispatched, who responding officers are, cause of dispatch, and result. This is the CAD report. To get one you need the date and time of the incident. This report is usually easy to obtain for a small fee. Other "types" of police "reports" range from easy to difficult to obtain. I have never heard of an auto crash report being refused because "the crash is still under investigation." The report is the report. Are we to believe that an investigation will change the report?The hard police log used to be in loose leaf folders. This made it easy to sit at a table in the lobby, and browse. And, yes in almost 100% of the cases the location the police responded to was included. This was also by date and time.This became controversial when the Chronical did a story on a drug connected shooting across the street from me, in a gentrified neighborhood, where the incorrect address of the location of the shooting was recorded, and the elderly man who lived there was hounded, and his family bitterly complained. David at the Chronicle may remember this.The City discusses releasing the "general location" such as naming the street, not even the nearest intersection, as a solution. Therefore, if one really wants to know where the police responded to, one must get the CAD report.It would seem that the police, or the City are too sensitive to the spotlight, constantly throwing the tiller about, instead of setting a steady course, and weathering the few blows that come up.At any rate, during the time they had both the hard log, and the on line log, the on line log was incomplete. It looks like they have removed the hard log without making the on line log complete.@David, w/o the CAD report, some of the police "reports" are meaningless.

  26. O'Reilly

    Lkcape: If the material is available for inspection, it is available. Oh to live in a world a platitudinal absolutes. This perfectly formed logically constructed self-defining declaration reminds me of one from a previous comment by the same author on Supreme Court decisions about executive power: "they say what they say." Let's face it, there is no arguing with that kind of assertion, one that really says nothing and exhibits no insight whatsoever and no interest in becoming more familiar with the issue before spouting off irrefutable absolute platitudes that in no way advance the conversation. But the information is not available for inspection: …during the time they had both the hard log, and the on line log, the on line log was incomplete. It looks like they have removed the hard log without making the on line log complete.Clearly Lkcape owe's everyone with whom he disagrees on this point an apology for characterizing their comments as "whining":…until then, it's just whining.Lkcape is not one of those whiners. He would not complain. He would go there and get it. But wait, it's not available there nor is it available on-line. And if he ever discovered that or acknowledged it, would his objection be "whining" or something else?In lkcape's world, manly men, tough guys, guys who are ready to throw down don't whine, they are self-sufficient and they take control of their own destiny. Other people who raise concerns about whether a police force is complying with the law and cooperating with the public in disseminating public information are "whiners".In case you haven't noticed Lkcape, no one is intimidated by your tough guy persona. And calling other people whiners, the ones you disagree with, is not a winning argument.

  27. lkcape

    Oh really, O'Reilly? You sure have your knickers in a twist today.'Tis you and your kind who assume entitlement without warrant.'Tis you and your kind who see themselves as victims in everything.'Tis you and your kind that push for Government dominance of everything and fail to recognize the practical limitations of control. The macho world you project is YOUR view, not mine. And it is clear that YOU see yourself as the God — or is that demagogue — of that universe.I see personal and professional responsibility for one's own actions as key to personal and professional success, and key to a truly civil society.And I also see, in you, an individual who would rather excoriate someone else for your own inability to understand and articulate issues.I think I prefer my world to yours, and I think it appropriate to continue to point out the shortcomings of your view.Your screed is but another whine. But what else could we have expected?

  28. Dan Kennedy

    Ikcape: Good grief. I do believe we're talking about ensuring that public records are public. I don't think this is a theological question.This is not a simple matter of Chronicle reporters being too lazy to visit the police station. Chronicle editor David Harris has explained some of the hassles his folks have run into trying to keep tabs on the local police.Not all police departments are the same. I've actually banned my students from visiting Boston police headquarters, for instance, because officials there make it too easy. They are thoroughly professional.On the other hand, I've never had a student come back from Cambridge with a happy story. One student had to go three times to fulfill the assignment.

  29. lkcape

    This whole discussion, Dan, started with the limited — and decidedly slanted — story in The Chronicle that you picked up and ran to a possibly, and likely, erroneous conclusion.David Harris, who I would assume is with The Chronicle, understood the critique and provided clarifications.I do not believe the clarifications exonerated The Chronicle from their role in not being able to get what they wish. I see The Chronicle as, in part, responsible for their own problem.They have access to what is available and have been informed that a reasonable fee would be charged for file copies. Their core complaint is that it is not for a price that they are willing to pay.You and O'Reilly have taken this into the metaphysical realm, not I, likely because there was no where else for you to go given the thinness of your original — and subsequent — arguments.Your focus here, is the media and its performance. I find it odd that you are uncomfortable when others ask the obvious questions.If you want to complain about the CPD deliberately withholding information, you are going to have to provide more conclusive evidence than you have in this thread.

  30. O'Reilly

    Not all police departments are the same. I've actually banned my students from visiting Boston police headquarters, for instance, because officials there make it too easy. They are thoroughly professional.On the other hand, I've never had a student come back from Cambridge with a happy story. One student had to go three times to fulfill the assignment.Dan sends his students to the BPD and CPD seeking public information and knows how one department operates and how the other one operates and it turns out CPD makes it a challenge to get public information but lkcape won't let that ACTUAL EXPERIENCE inform his rigid opinion, "If you want to complain about the CPD deliberately withholding information, you are going to have to provide more conclusive evidence than you have in this thread." If I want to criticize how CPD operates, and you might take note that Dan, David Harris, Kathy Rodgers and I are not alone in that, I do not have to provide evidence to your standard. With all the evidence at hand, including the lawsuit over public records that follows two years of effort trying to obtain addresses of incidents, who else is surprised that lkcape is still arguing that we are all whiners who have no substantive evidence of CPDs obstructionism in providing public information? Either lkcape has a reading comprehension problem or he self-identifies so strongly as a police officer that evidence that puts police in an unfavorable light is inadmissible in the consciousness of lkcape.

  31. O-FISH-L

    Dan, I read what the CPD lawyer said and it has no significance to what I said. You earlier wrote that in your own limited scan of CPD documents, you had no problem finding addresses and ages of arrestees. My point is that the Chronicle checks the log more frequently than you do and perhaps the occasional arrestee with no address listed may not have an address to list. 'Tis all.Your example of Boston Police being cooperative and professional in handing over information seems to demolish the argument that cops have some inherent desire to hide crime information. My experience has been that an informed public is a great resource for any police department. After all, they are the eyes and ears of the PD. An informed public is also a great lobbying group at budget time, especially when crime is up and they know about it. My guess is that CPD has nothing to hide, but perhaps they do the bare minimum for the Chronicle because of bad blood. I'm not saying its right, just that it happens. Lastly, DA's across the state regularly weigh-in on violations of the open meeting law. I'm not sure if the DA or the AG has jurisdiction on the police log law, but I'm sure if DA Jerry Leone or AG Martha Coakley called Commissioner Haas and said, "Here's what you need to be releasing to the media," it would get done. The lawsuit, at least before other remedies are exhausted, seems akin to using a sledgehammer to kill a mosquito.

  32. lkcape

    Poor O'Rielly, nickers still grandly twisted…as is his argument.Just because three people make a claim, the truth does not follow necessarily.Just because a law suit issues in a particular case doesn't establish a grand pattern — a vast right wing conspiracy, if you will — of withholding and deception.Just because O'Reilly's world requires the assumption of his beliefs by all doesn't make his conclusions either valid or true in and of themselves.Perhaps, O'Rielly YOUR error is much more fundamental…a rush to judgment against anything that intrudes into your intellectually isolated cosmos.Be your view liberal or conservative, it matters not. It is decidedly dictatorial.Now, who is playing the macho game?

  33. the zak

    Besides the FOI Freedom of Information public records principles, sunshine open public meetings principles of transparent open government there's another side to this that is records management, records preservation, archives preservation. Please note the information at http://www.sec.state.ma.us/arc/arcrmu/rmuidx.htmand athttp://www.sec.state.ma.us/arc/arcaac/aacidx.htmIntellectual freedom principles http://www.ala.org/ala/aboutala/offices/oif/iftoolkits/ifmanual/intellectual.cfm freedom to read principles at our Cambridge Public Library aren't put into practice when enquiring for the minutes/notes of the last public meeting of our library board.

  34. O'Reilly

    lkcape, You argue by analogy. You could make a case if you were able to cite evidence from the facts presented in the situation. Next topic, see if you can cite evidence presented or information directly relevant to the issue …otherwise it's just opinion and everyone has one of those.

  35. bob gardner

    I think some of the confusion could be cleared up if the two Ikcape's could call themselves Ikcape1 and Ikcape2. One of them claims to be some kind of self-reliant conservative and the other appears to be an apologist for government bureacrats. I've had FOIA requests in at HUD, the BRA, the Dept of Communities and Development, and DSS. None of them handled my request correctly, and the Secretery of State (for the state and local requests)is not only toothless but seems to think that it's job is to find a middle ground between the law and what the state agency wants to do. My point is that the CPD seems to be no different and probably has similar motivation. There is no big upside for obeying FOIA requests, and just about no downside for obstructing them.

  36. lkcape

    Not all government bureaucrats are as incompetent as you may suggest, just as all liberals aren't as full of hate and venom and insult as one might think from these exchanges.O'Reilly, you REALLY need to read the start of this thread over. You will discover that our esteemed host Dan, provided a stunning conclusion with no facts to back it up.I merely pointed out where Dan's argument danced from one high point to another without providing any trail between them.You have offered no additional facts, but merely insult after insult after insult, and dead squirrel after dead squirrel after dead squirrel.Insults and squirrels, dear Sir, or Madam if that is the case, are not facts. Never were, never will be.I do not see nefarious plots and conspiracies to deprive "the public" of their rights as do you and your educated and elitist friends.Nor do I see a devil behind every badge or symbol of authority.It is YOUR claim, not mine and I urge you to defend it. Neither I nor anyone else is obligated to make your case for you. Shame on you for insisting otherwise.But bully away if you will, my friend, bully away. (If the wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest pains continue, I'm sure MGH or BU Med can help. Give 'em a call.)One quibble, Bob with your assertion that your FOI requests were not handled correctly. Is there anyone other than you or one of your associates, i.e., one who is truly independent, who has concured with your assessment? Or are we looking at a sample of one?Let's all note the New York Times declared a "trend" based on a highly limited, and decidedly inappropriate sample.I wouldn't want to see you make the error that Times Public Editor Hoyt noted regarding The Times' report and reporters. Could be embarrassing to the cause. One thing that many of you seem to misunderstand is what "the law" really is in practice, most particularly in the area of civil law.It is simply a codified way of resolving disputes before a presumed neutral arbiter. Decision is based on the preponderance of the evidence as measured against the law. Nothing more, nothing less. Justice, "right" or "wrong" are concepts that are rarely of consequence under civil law.Civil law and criminal law are very, very different.Understand that and you may have a better idea as to why your concerns end up having little traction where and when it really counts.

  37. Peter Porcupine

    DK – FORGET the cost! That's the LEAST important part!Do I understand correctly that there is NO hard copy? For the moment, set aside the problem of access for those without highspeed Internet (a real problem – most of western MA has only 56k, and they are members of the public!)The only record is a fluid digital picture? The temptation to re-write history is ENORMOUS! And I speak as a professional bureaucrat!Perhaps the 'missing' info is merely an attempt to correct errors? There were always errors with paper records, but they could be corrected and initialled, establishing a framework of when/how information was recorded.Solzhenitsyn wrote a book called 'We Never Make Mistakes' – perhaps the CPD training manual?

  38. Tunder

    Well done, lskape. You have pretty much hijacked yet another thread. I wonder if you'll be able to resist having the last word? That red "Publish Your Comment" button is SO tempting…

  39. mike_b1

    PP, regarding the "fluid digital picture," cache memory has a way of storing that which some would like to change and/or disappear.

  40. Peter Porcupine

    And the public' abiltiy to access the CPD cache is…what?Please understand. This isn't about technological reality but bureaurcatic reality. Unless you plan to hack the CPD record system to retrieve the cache – possibly to prove a negative, in that no error was ever made – you cannot possibly know if the 'latest' version has changes.Bring back carbon! Mimeograph! Stencils! But seriously – there needs to be a paper trail!

  41. lkcape

    Good heavens! Both Tinder and O'Really drink from the same well. Who could have imagined that?The issue of this thread has always been the equating of cost of file to denial of access. And both the evidence and the arguments for that conclusion have been woefully thin. PP's comments regarding hard copy records are spot on. It's a real shame that you can't port them directly to your Kindle.It must be a conspiracy against liberty, justice and entitlement! Man the barricades, fellow patriots!But those are other subjects, and I surely do not wish to be accused, unfairly or not, of hijacking such and important thread.My critique of Dan's initial post stands.

  42. bob gardner

    "One quibble, Bob with your assertion that your FOI requests were not handled correctly. Is there anyone other than you or one of your associates, i.e., one who is truly independent, who has concured with your assessment? Or are we looking at a sample of one?" Okay, Ikcape(1 or 2?) here's a partial rundown. For the HUD request, under the Federal FOIA law, I got an answer denying a request because Hud had provided information before and the records were now in storage. This answer was given long after the 10 day limit for replying to FOIA requests. The reason that I think this is not correct is that I can read and can count to 10. In this case I phoned the HUD counsel's office, the attorney I spoke to said that she had doubts about whether this request had been handled correctly and I received the documents I was looking for. I take this as a pretty strong indication that the original request had been handled improperly. With regard to the BRA, I requested a document I had previously seen, the redevelopment plan of the building I was living in, ie 193-213 Kelton Street in Allston. The BRA told me that it wouldn't provide it. The Secretery of State's office told me that they wanted to broker a compromise between my getting the public document I requested and what the BRA wanted to provide. I take that as an indication that the Secretery of State's office was not going to enforce the law as written. Both these requests concerned the redevelopment of Governor Apartments on Kelton Street in Allston. The HUD official who rejected my FOIA subsequently became a Vice President with the landlord/developer. Similarly, according to the SOS, the former BRA official who would negotiate what documents I was entitled to was also now working for the developer. A big conspiracy to frustrate my FOIA requests? Of course not. But a conflict of interest? Yes. And were my requests handled correctly? No. As for my request to the DSS (unrelated to the above cases), the agency simply ignored my FOIA for a month and a half. Then they provided a heavily redacted document that itself refered to other documents in my file, which DSS claimed didn't exist. I appealed to the SOS, which after almost two years referred the case to the AG, both the SOS and the AG were explicit, both in writing and verbally, that DSS had not handled my case correctly. The DSS lawyer also admitted to mishandling my original request when, at long last he sent the remaining document. So, I have to say, it was unanimous. Do you need more documentation? The HUD and BRA requests were a long time ago, but I still remember the names of the public officials involved and of course, my old landlord. I don't think they belong on Dan's blog without his explicit permission, but if anyone cares maybe I can email them to Dan and he can pass them on. You can find the appeals decision of the DSS case (not the FOIA but the whole case), if you search for "Adoption of Betsy". When you find it note the passage where the unnamed appeals judge claims that I was trying to interfere with the children after they had formed a bond with the adoptive parents. I filed the FOIA when the youngest children were about six weeks old. Do you think that the delaying tactics of DSS, which were mirrored in every aspect of this case suited the agency's purpose? Sorry if this is long–but you asked for it. Now let me ask you–where the hell do you get the idea that I make things up? I post under my real name, and I've never posted anything on this blog that was made up. You don't know anything about me, but you seem smugly certain that I fit your stereotype of a liberal and that a couple of supercilious comments will nullify everything I say. Who put that idea in your head?

  43. mike_b1

    I would think a died-in-the-wool conservative would see the amassing and continued storage of written records as an unnecessary cost, and the use of the Web to store those data — essentially for free — as a much better use of taxpayer money.But that would require a basic understanding of math, something conservatives are incapable of.

  44. lkcape

    It can and does lead to a storage nightmare for some organizations.But for a died-in-the-wool conspiracy theorist, like you Mr. B_1, and Really and Tinder, too, I would think that a contemporaneously generated hard-coy audit trail would make your case much more easily proven. Electronic records are easily altered. And while an audit log is possible to track change, that log too is subject to being altered. (A script kiddie could wipe our your computer in a fraction of a second.)No. The check against abuse is in the contemporaneous hard copy.There are issues that the brave new world has yet to get a handle on. This is one of them.

  45. mike_b1

    It is very, very easy to set up systems whereby any changes are logged, with the precise change and IP address recorded. Ever looked behind the curtain at Wikipedia?If best-in-class companies have faith in storing all their data electronically, I don't know why you would be so concerned here. Moreover, storage is CHEAP! Servers cost way less than file rooms.Again, the so-called conservative's viewpoint doesn't jibe with her ideology. What's wrong?

  46. lkcape

    Yea, B_1 and the outfit I manage has gone FAR beyond what Wikipedia could have dreamed of in site security….and it still is a problem. In fact, there is a whole INDUSTRY dedicated to the subject.But hey, we all know you are right… TP knows all!Suggest you do some research into on-line security before you make such sweeping statements.(BTW recording the MAC address along with the IPs as seen by a proxy see-through, is a much surer way identifying users. But I guess that cyber forensics isn't your strong suit.)

  47. the zak

    How do you get other Cambridge city departments to comply with FOI Freedom of Information public records principles, sunshine open public meetings principles of transparent open government?… Our Cambridge Public Library didn't make available the notes/minutes of the June public meeting of our library board yet.

  48. lkcape

    1) Vote out the current set of rascals and vote in a new set dedicated to the principles of open and transparent government. (You get what you vote for.)2) File a civil suit. (May cost a few bucks)3) Organize civic groups to attend their board meeting and ask tough questions and/or disrupt their proceedings (an old liberal tradition). Ooops, can't do that any longer according to the Speaker Pelosi and the liberal wags..that's UN-AMERICAN.You'll have to stick to No. 1 or No. 2.

  49. mike_b1

    lckape, I'd suggest you hire better IT personnel. (Hehe, "you hire." As if.) I'm a VP at a $2.2B a year publishing company with countless titles and legions of sites. What you seem to have problems with are really not a big deal if you know what you are doing.

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