Getting Their Acts Straight

Over on L.A. Observed is a compelling post about LAPD Chief William Bratton being none to pleased with Daily News columnist Mariel Garza’s beef at the difficulty she says some of her CSUN journalism students have met in attempting to get police report information from certain divisions:

“The students who chose to go to LAPD stations – which included Devonshire, Mission and West Los Angeles – had, every one, frustrating experiences. None was given access to the public record requested; some were even told they didn’t have a right to it. Worse though, was that in most of the cases, my students reported unprovoked hostility by the desk officers to their simple, and righteous, requests.”

Bratton, seemingly not averse to a diversion away from all the videos-come-lately showcasing how some of his officers have been broadly interpreting the department’s use-of-force guidelines, fires back with a bit of a defensive neener-neener on the LAPD blog that his people can’t help it if the persons making the requests don’t know their asses from their elbows — or in this case the Federal Freedom of Information Act from the state and local California Public Records Act:

“For example, a management analyst who works in the Devonshire Area Crime Analysis Detail spent a great deal of time trying to help five of Garza’s California State University Northridge students. They asked for specific crime information under the “Freedom of Information Act,” not the “California Public Records Act (CPRA).” There is a difference; the Freedom of Information Act pertains to requests for federal records, and the CPRA deals with requests for information from state and local agencies. According to the analyst, the students insisted they be given crime information under the Freedom of Information Act. “

Certainly it’s not an unreasonable expectation that journalists, student or professional, be prepared, and no it is not the LAPD’s resposibility to school them in the error of their ways. But come on chief… quoting the difference between the two acts doesn’t do much to dispell visions of some sort of entrenched stonewalling taking place along these lines:

J-Student: Hello, I’d like access to specific crime information available to me under the Freedom of Information Act.
LAPD Management Analyst: You have no right to that information under the Freedom of Information Act.
Student: But.
Student: But.
Student: But.
LAPD: One more “but” and you have the right to remain silent.

What would have been cool is this (I can dream can’t I?):

LAPD: Hmmm… by chance, do you mean the California Public Records Act?
Student: Yeah, that’s it!
LAPD: Well swell then!

A couple paragraphs deeper Bratton even adopts a surely-you-jest stance about just how prompt his personnel need to be in providing that information:

“Garza’s column also did not explain that the CPRA requires that “access be immediate and allowed at all times.” However, “staff need not disrupt operations to allow immediate access, but a decision whether to grant access must be prompt.” One surely cannot expect a police division in the Valley that on average responds to over 700 calls for service in a week, handles over 300 crime and arrest reports in a week to drop everything when a student walks in and wants crime information and wants it now. “

Some people love it when the chief goes “Pfffft!” Me, not so much and doing so by finding a technicality to righteously hang Garza’s students is narrow and disappointing, But even if I disagree with the tone and the delivery I do appreciate the dialogue Bratton’s bringing to the community with his communiques and the department blog.

5 thoughts on “Getting Their Acts Straight”

  1. I like Bratton because he’s usually no bullshit guy. But in this instance, he’s encouraging the LAPD to bullshit the populace.

    The larger problem here is that upon reading the CPRA, it appears that the LAPD has been deliberately violating the law. No where in the language does it cite that the public needs to mention the CPRA as a condition to receive information. While it does point out that the public agencies need to assist people with the proper formalities to receive said info.

  2. I especially like how the chief acknowledges that “access be immediate and allowed at all times”. But apparently not if, you know, somebody has to actually go and get the requested file. And while the Chief seems to say it’s okay to deny “immediate” access in favor of “prompt” access, he doesn’t seem to offer any reason why none of the students were provided the requested file. Additionally, he doesn’t say why some students were apparently incorrectly told they didn’t have a right to see the file. Instead he says nobody should expect the desk officer to “drop everything when a student walks in” asking for a file they are entitled to see.

  3. This is especially bogus since no LAPD desk officer has a clue what the CPRA or FOIA are.
    I think those journalism students ought to write a version of “Roger & Me” about how difficult it was for them to get any straight answers.

  4. This is an interesting thread that I’d like to chime in on sometime in the future with anecdotes that will make you understand why external relations at a public safety agency is considered pennance by many civil servants. :)

    Sadly, I am entrenched (even in my off-duty hours from home) in helping our office recover from a genuinely catastrophic hardware failure.

    As has been said in other threads, often times the truth lies somewhere ‘in the middle’. Such may be the case here?

    Again, thanks for the interesting thread and for your collective involvement in civic affairs.

    Respectfully Yours in Safety and Service,

    Brian Humphrey
    Public Service Officer **
    Los Angeles Fire Department

    ** “Last To Know, First To Be Asked”

  5. I appreciat Mr. Humphrey’s attitude, but I must draw a distinction between the police and the fire department. Whether it’s a matter of what type of personality is attracted to the work in the first place or not, in my personal experience the fire department is almost always friendly towards the public and the LAPD is hostile to the public and treats all citizens as if they are John Dillinger.

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