Georgia Audit 2005

Agencies' responses: From speedy to silent

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
March 13, 2005

CLARIFICATION: 03/18/05, Page A/02: A Sunday @Issue section report said the GBI had not responded to a Georgia Open Records Act request for crime data reported by the city of Holly Springs. The GBI's response, with the data the newspaper had sought, arrived in the mail on Monday, the day after publication.

Under the name of an individual citizen, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution filed open records requests with 66 metro police departments in mid-February. The request was for the "uniform crime report, Part 1" from each department. The seven "Part 1" crimes are murder, rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny and auto theft.

This information is public record and naturally would be of interest to people living in each community. Each police department (and sheriff's office) is required by law to submit this information to the GBI's Georgia Crime Information Center regularly.

The agencies had a few options for their responses. They could supply 12 monthly reports listing Part 1 crimes. Several did this. Another option was to obtain the information from the GCIC. After it receives the monthly crime data from each police department, the crime information center compiles a one-page summary of annual Part 1 crimes for every police department. The police departments had the option of asking the GCIC to supply them with that document, which they could then turn over to the requesting citizen. A few did this. Or they could contact the GCIC and authorize it to release the information. One did this.

By law, the agencies had three business days to respond. (Our letter was mailed Feb. 11.) They are permitted to charge an hourly rate for research required to fill the request and may also charge up to 25 cents each for photocopies. Here, organized by county, is how each police department responded. An asterisk * denotes an excellent response.

CHEROKEE COUNTY

Ballground: Mailed 46 pages of crime data with a bill for $11.50. Did not supply a cost estimate in advance, as the law provides. Sent the documents on Feb. 25.

Canton: Asked for advance payment of $3.60 to mail 12-page report.

Sheriff's office: No response.

* Holly Springs: Instructed GBI to release data. No charge. The GBI, however, has not yet responded to a request for the information.

Nelson: The city's new chief, Dub Bryant, replied that he had asked the GBI to supply him with the information and that he would send it when he received it. "Continue to keep in touch and I will let you know how it's going," Bryant wrote.

Woodstock: Supplied a detailed report at no charge on March 1. Included comparison data from 2003.

CLAYTON COUNTY

County police: Initially responded, on Feb. 21, that it would mail 36 pages at a cost of $11. This followed the law, which requires that the agency explain whatever costs are associated with the request before filling it. After receiving a clarifying e-mail, the department e-mailed 12 pages of information Feb. 28. No charge.

Forest Park: No response

Jonesboro: The city clerk responded right away, on Feb. 16, with an e-mail advising that she had the information and that the one-page photocopy would cost 25 cents. The paper asked that she fax the documents and a bill but received no response.

Lake City: No response.

* Morrow: Police chief e-mailed information Feb. 21. No charge.

Riverdale: Records supervisor Ruth Dick sent a copy of the GCIC's one-page summary on Feb. 25 and billed $2.

COBB COUNTY

Acworth: First asked for $9 prepayment but then sent a report for the first six months of 2004 at no charge. Has not yet sent a report for the remainder of the year.

Austell: Warned Feb. 21 that response would be delayed until Feb. 28 because of computer problems. Has yet to send the information.

County police: No response. Called by the newspaper last week, records custodian Lt. T.R. Alexander said he had no record of the request. "We have to respond by law to an open records request, [but\] I haven't seen anything," he said. He suggested that the newspaper fax another copy of the request.

Sheriff's office: Mailed a 20-page report March 2. Billed $5.

Kennesaw: No response.

* Marietta: Followed the law by advising that the request would cost $11.09 per hour for research and 25 cents per page for photocopies. But also supplied an alternate report free of charge by e-mail Feb. 18.

Powder Springs: No response.

Smyrna: No response. After being contacted by the newspaper last week, the department faxed the one-page document. No charge.

COWETA COUNTY

* Sheriff's office: Sent a 12-page report on Feb. 17. No charge.

* Grantville: Offered in an e-mail Feb. 15 to send a spreadsheet with the necessary data, but in the same e-mail sent the department's unofficial tally for all Part 1 crimes in 2004. No charge.

* Newnan: Renee Duncan responded Feb. 14, one of the earliest responses of any department, to say she believed she had the necessary data but wanted to make sure her 12-page summary was what the requester wanted. Advised that it was, she mailed it Feb. 17. No charge.

Senoia: E-mailed on Feb. 24 to say that "we will not be able to waive the fees in regards to accessing and copying the documents you have requested." But the e-mail did not detail the number of pages or the cost of the research. Did not reply to an additional e-mail from the requester.

DEKALB COUNTY

Avondale Estates: No response.

* Chamblee: Mailed one-page report on Feb. 16. No charge.

Clarkston: Office manager replied on Feb. 16, asking for $14 in advance. The paper withdrew its request, citing excessive cost.

* Decatur: Capt. David Hipple responded Feb. 22 that the request was ready to be picked up. E-mailed Feb. 23 that he would "drop them in the mail. I have no idea how much postage will be, so don't worrry about it." Sent 12 pages, no charge.

County police: No response. Contacted by the newspaper last week, a sergeant in the chief's office said he had no idea where the request might be but offered to fill it right away if the newspaper would resend it.

Sheriff's office: No response.

Doraville: No response.

Lithonia: No response.

MARTA police: Provided cost estimate of $33 for a 132-page report. The newspaper agreed and obtained the report.

Pine Lake: Chief Sarai Y'hudah-Green replied on Feb. 17 that Pine Lake was ready to comply with the request but warned there was a charge for it. The next day, Director of Administration Phil Howland e-mailed that "we are a small town of about 650 persons and we had 1 assault in 2004. That's it." Howland said he was "sure [the report\] would be less than $100." The day after that Chief Y'hudah-Green sent a list of 2004 crime statistics and said, "I will gladly waive any fee."

Stone Mountain Park: Responded Feb. 17 with estimates of the cost of the request --- $3.74 --- as the law provides. Faxed two-page report on March 3 at no charge.

FAYETTE COUNTY

Fayetteville police were inadvertently omitted from this test.

* Sheriff's office: E-mailed report on Feb. 16. No charge.

* Peachtree City: E-mailed report on Feb. 21 (three days after receipt). City also posts 10-year history of crime on the Internet.

* Tyrone: Supplied the information on Feb. 18. "Although the fees for these documents have been waived, for your reference this department will charge copy and access costs for any future requests," wrote Administrator Kathy Bright.

FORSYTH COUNTY

Cumming: No response.

* Sheriff's office: Deputy Joe Hilliard sent the information on Feb. 16. "The total time to locate, review and copy this report was less than 15 minutes; therefore there is no charge for this report." Followed the law perfectly.

FULTON COUNTY

Alpharetta: Records supervisor Pam Williford responded within three days with data from the first 11 months of 2004. No charge.

* Atlanta: Officer B.K. Floyd responded Feb. 16 that all the information sought by the request was available on the department's Web site: www.atlantapd.org.

College Park: Responded Feb. 15 that a four-page report was available at a cost of $1. Did not request prepayment, but has not sent report.

* East Point: Replied Feb. 16 that it could supply the data at a cost of $44.62. But Uniform Crime Report Supervisor Sharon Battle noted that all the information is available free at eastpointpolice.org. The site also has crime data going back 10 years.

* Fairburn: E-mailed a spreadsheet of the requested data on Feb. 15. No charge. Followed the law perfectly.

County police: Capt. Craig Cass wrote Feb. 22 that "the records exist and are subject to public disclosure but are not available within three business days of the request. The fourth-quarter statistics are being finalized and are expected to be complete by the end of this month." Did not respond to an e-mail from the requester and has not yet sent any data.

* Sheriff's office: Mailed information Feb. 21. No charge.

Hapeville: Deputy city clerk responded Feb. 22 that "the charges are as follows: 1.5 hours (the first 15 minutes are not chargeable) $28.43, and 1 copies @ $.25 each for a total of $28.68. Please pay the clerk at the front counter of City Hall." The city set the hourly cost for research at $22.74, and said it would take 90 minutes to find one piece of paper. The newspaper responded that it was withdrawing its request because of the excessive cost.

Palmetto: Asked its attorney to respond; in a letter dated Feb. 22, she said the information was available at the police station for an undisclosed cost.

* Roswell: Records Clerk Lynn Sewell responded Feb. 17 that, given a fax number, she would send the document at no charge. She faxed it that day.

Union City: Mailed the information March 4 at no charge "after clarifying your request."

GWINNETT COUNTY

Duluth: No response.

County police: Open records manager initially responded, "We don't give that out." After several e-mail exchanges, the department agreed to supply two CDs with extensive crime data, well beyond the scope of the request. Two discs were received early this month. The charge was $21.06.

Sheriff's office: County police report the sheriff's crime data.

Lawrenceville: Initially sought $30 in advance for a 120- to 130-page report; when request was clarified, asked for $3 in advance (and a self-addressed stamped envelope) for 12-page report.

Lilburn: No response.

Norcross: Said it files its crime data with a new FBI system and could not make the information available.

Snellville: Lt. Tim Taylor wrote on Feb. 14 that the request would require 83 pages to fill and would cost $62.75, payable at the police station. Taylor wrote on Feb. 28: "I have responded to your request and now must close this document out. Please come by the department and I will make available the documents and you can tell us which, if any you desire. We will be happy to copy them for a small copy charge and assist you in any way we can."

Suwanee: Responded Feb. 17 that the 12-page report would cost $3, which the department asked for in advance.

HENRY COUNTY

Hampton: City Clerk Elaine Haynes said the 12-page report would cost $14.06 and said "payment must be received prior to our mailing the requested documents."

County police: Said on Feb. 21 that it only had information for the first four months of 2004 and was charging $8.87 for that. Asked that the requester sign an affidavit pledging to pay when the records were received. The newspaper declined to sign the affidavit; the records have not been sent.

Sheriff's office: No response.

Locust Grove: No response.

McDonough: Initially advised requester to send the request to Henry County 911. Mailed 12-page report on March 2.

ROCKDALE COUNTY

* Conyers: Offered by e-mail on Feb. 15 to e-mail an electronic file or to send the 12-page report by regular post. E-mailed the report at no charge.

* Sheriff's office: Mailed the 12-page report on Feb. 18 at no charge. Both the sheriff's office and the Conyers police followed the law perfectly.

© 2005 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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