The following information is taken word-for-word out of the training manual provided to each of our auditors. It was intended to provide a step-by-step approach for the auditor to follow, down to the last detail. In addition to circulating this material, each auditor also participated in a training session with CalAware staff to make sure that they understood their roles and responsibilities in this project. Auditors were assigned supervisors and were closely monitored throughout the project to assure their adherence to our methodology.
This audit is designed to measure the experience of an average citizen who approaches a law enforcement agency for public information. In our experience, most individuals in the public do not know their rights or the agency’s responsibilities, and will often prematurely walk away with nothing to show for their request. Our first audit, conducted in December 2006, confirmed this reality, showing very poor understanding of the law, across the board. Since that time, we have conducted a number of workshops for police and sheriff’s departments on the law and the special customer service aspects of public record requests, and we are aware of a number of internal training opportunities as well (through the departments and their professional organizations). This follow-up audit is to determine the level of improvement brought about by these educational sessions, and to see what changes, if any, departments are making to better comply with the law.
- Do unto others… Please be courteous and professional with each agency representative you deal with. Leave all of your biases and past experiences outside and give them every opportunity to perform well on this survey. You are not there to play “gotcha”, but instead to accurately document your experience as a member of the general public.
- Loose lips… Confidentiality is of the utmost important for this project. You must not tell your friends, your family or anyone else about your involvement or any of the audit details. Any mention of this is a breach of the embargo, and could lead to widespread survey damage. This also applies to anything you tell the agency directly. Never disclose your purpose beyond telling them that you’re doing “research” (see Don’t Lie/Don’t Volunteer” below).
- Follow-Through — It is extremely important that you get back to the agency as soon as possible after they have contacted you either for clarification or to arrange delivery of the documents. We cannot post incomplete results, so you must find some way to get the documents you request, either in person, or via mail or fax (you may even be able to arrange for them to email them if the documents are available electronically).
- Ordinary People – Remember that the entire purpose of this project is to capture the experience of the average person, with no particular knowledge or information about his or her rights. Your job is to stick to the methodology, and never question or challenge the agency personnel you are dealing with. Report everything back to us, and the study results will speak for themselves about what the agency did or did not know about the law.
Written Request – Monday, October 15
- PRINT THE LETTER — Print the written request(s) associated with your assigned agency(ies) from the online database. This should be done on plain paper. No letterhead or other identifying materials should be used or included.
- MAIL THE LETTER — Mail the request to the individual and address listed at the top of each letter. Please handwrite this information on the outside of the envelope and use stamps for postage (instead of a postage meter). These letters should ideally be mailed from your home or mailbox unassociated with your newsroom or school.
- CLARIFY YOUR REQUEST — If the agency calls for clarification, please follow-up in a timely and professional manner. If you need help or are uncertain how to respond to their questions, please contact me immediately.
- RETRIEVE YOUR REQUEST — When the agency calls or emails to let you know that the documents are ready, you can either go back to the agency to pick them up, you can ask them to be faxed to any fax machine you have available to you, or you may ask them to mail the information to you if they do not first require a copy fee payment. If they request a fee for copies, and you need help to cover this cost, please let me know and I will arrange for you to be reimbursed (it should not exceed $1, in most cases).
- SHARE YOUR RESULTS — The only documentation we will need from you (you can either mail it or fax it back to me) is a copy of any fee calculations they come up with, or the determination letter they produce explaining the absence of any such documentation. If you have a scanner or access to one, you can simply scan these documents and upload them into your report yourself following the directions on the report form. For the copy fee amounts themselves, please enter these directly into the appropriate fields in the online database.
Oral Request –Tuesday, October 16 (preparation should be completed no later than October 15)
- PREPARE IN ADVANCE — To prepare for your request, you must do some research to identify any burglary that took place in each of your assigned agencies’ jurisdictions between October 1 through October 12. You can do this either by working with a reporter who has access to that agency’s call log, you can check the agency’s website to see if they routinely publish this information, or you can work with a partner and send them in one week before the audit to take a look at the call log at the agency. NOTE: Whatever method you choose, it is very important that you not give away the project. If you are uncertain of how to research your agency, please give me a call and I will provide further direction. The idea is that you have found out some information about the burglary—from a news report or otherwise—but you are now asking for everything the agency is willing to share with you.
- MEMORIZE THE FORM — Print the report form for each agency off the online database. Familiarize yourself with the items on this form so you know precisely what to ask for and how to analyze what you’re shown.
- LOCATE YOUR AUDIENCE — Enter the agency and tell them that you’d like to get some information about a burglary.
- DON’T LIE/DON’T VOLUNTEER — If at any point they ask you who you are, who you’re with (your professional affiliation), or what you want the information for, just remember that you must first determine whether they are just asking out of social custom or curiosity, or whether they are requiring this information in order to process the request. You may do this in any way that feels comfortable or natural to you, but this is very important as it will affect their results. Once you determine the purpose of their inquiry, you may tell them who you are, what newsroom or school you are with, but do not volunteer any more information. Wait until they ask for it. If they ask what you want the information for, the most you need to say (once you’ve determined why they’re asking) is “research”. NEVER DISCLOSE THAT YOU ARE AN AUDITOR OR THAT YOU ARE PARTICIPATING IN AN AUDIT. This is a violation of the embargo, not to mention that it may skew the results in a significant and irreversible way.
- TIMING — Be prepared to wait for up to one hour. We do not expect this request to take nearly that long, but we’ve learned not to be surprised by such long waiting times. Again, you will need to take note of the amount of time it takes to retrieve the document and/or information. As you’ll see on the form, the agency will get a different score depending on whether the request is handled within 20 minutes, 40 minutes or over one hour. Wear a watch or carry a cell phone. The form asks you to note what time you visited the agency (it must be during their posted business hours), so please note the time you enter the building and the time you leave (which should, in most cases, account for the time it took to handle the request).
- TAKE NOTES — Tell them that you’d like all the information available for the burglary you’ve identified in your research. You’ll need to recall all of this information for your report later and your memory may need a little help. (see attached sample report form)
- TAKE A MENTAL PHOTO – This is important because you may need to accurately describe the person you dealt with if the agency tries to deny that you made the request. If you can casually find out their name or badge number, this would be ideal, but this should only be done if you can do it without giving away the project. Ideally, you will include this descriptive information (including name and/or badge number) in your narrative that will be included in your report.
- LOOK AROUND – While you are waiting, take a look around the lobby and see if you notice any evidence of a public records policy posted anywhere (or sitting on or near the counter). This will be worth extra credit if the agency has this information posted and/or available at the front counter.
- TRAVELING ABROAD – If you are told that the agency does not have the information you are seeking on its premises, give them the opportunity to offer to retrieve the information before you volunteer to go get it (this is important because it is one of the questions on the form). If they do send you away, you will need to note how far you went to get the document. You will find the approximate distances and descriptions on the report form. When you get to the new location, just tell them that ________ department sent you and proceed following the same guidelines as at the original location.
- FOLLOW-UP – If the agency does not produce the document during your visit, then you will need to provide them with your name (preferably just your first name), and a phone number or email address. Please do not give them any contact information that would disclose your affiliation. When they call to tell you that the information is now available, you may choose to go back to the agency to pick it up, or you may prefer to have it faxed or mailed to you—BUT DO NOT LET IT SIT THERE!
- AGENCY DEADLINES
- Oral Request – You should receive either the information you requested and/or a determination letter (explaining why you won’t be getting the information or when you will be getting it) on or before October 25.
- Written Request – You should receive either the information you requested and/or a determination letter (explaining why you won’t be getting the information or when you will be getting it) on or before October 29.
- REPORTING – Please fill out your report as soon after each visit as possible. If you print the form and take it with you to the agency, fill out as much information as possible immediately after you exit the agency. This is particularly important for your narrative (which will be made public along with the rest of your report on November 16—so be professional and accurate!). You may view previous auditors’ narratives on our website for an idea of how you might describe your visit. You will have up until November 4 (this means that any information you receive from the agency after this date will not be included in their results, but please report the information to me immediately) to complete and update/edit the online form. Please check to make sure that you have as much information as possible reported before this date.
Dates to Remember
October 11 – Deadline to register on our online database (check with your supervisor if you do not get the instructions and link by October 10).
October 15 – All written requests should be mailed (see instructions above).
October 16 – The oral request portion of the audit will be conducted. Try to get to your agencies as early in the day as possible.
October 25 – Deadline for the oral request information (or a determination letter) to be provided by the agency.
October 29 (in deference to the special circumstances facing the departments directly involved in the Southern California fires during the week of October 29, this deadline was extended to November 2)– Deadline for the written request information (or a determination letter) to be provided by the agency.
November 4 – Deadline to upload your completed reports into our online database. If you cannot scan and upload the materials we’ve requested, please mail or fax then as soon after you receive them as possible (see Share Your Results above). Any interviews you’d like to conduct with any of the agencies for a story or otherwise, should be done after November 4.
November 16 – Embargo lifts at 12:01 a.m. You may be contacted by reporters to talk about your experience. If you’d prefer not to be interviewed, please let me know in advance.