All three candidates for police chief met with reporters this afternoon to talk about various issues. I asked each of them to comment on the department's new online records system—which I reported earlier today—that restricts access to police reports, which serve as a public record for police activity and the basis of many news articles.
Quick background: The Seattle Police Department stopped disseminating police reports from precinct headquarters this week and replaced that system with a website where only about one-third of the records are posted. Citizens must now file an onerous records request, which can take up to a month, to get the other reports. Here's what the chief candidates said about restricting access to the police reports:
Interim Chief of Seattle Police John Diaz said this was his decision. He wants to make records more available, ultimately, while saving police the time of redacting police reports. "This was an innovative approach to be more transparent, and actually it is. I think eventually this will be a better system," he said.
"In the past, we were able to put reports out ... when they were two page reports," Diaz continued. "A typical report now is six to eight pages; every one of those reports have to be redacted that is an incredible amount of staff work."
"At the end of the day, it is my decision," he said. "So if you are mad, you know who to send letters to. ... We are trying to move to a system that is more transparent."
Diaz noted that more records might become available once the system is refined, and if police acquire more staff. However, and this is just my take, it seems unlikely that police will get more staff any time soon given the city's $56 million budget shortfall next year.
Ron Davis, chief of police in East Palo Alto, California, said, "I’d have to get a better understanding [of the issue], but I will give you this. I am proponent of public access." If appointed chief, he said, police will release records "in the fastest, most expedient way."
"I don’t want to say that I could reverse [the decision]. But online reporting should not take away access to reports. I look at the media, quite frankly as a partner. The best way to have a good partnership is to give you access to what I can."
And finally Rick Braziel, chief of Sacramento, California, said, "I would have to find out what you had that you no longer have. I cant guarantee what I would do." However, he noted, that police departments "need to be as transparent as possible in putting out information to public. Rolling out information to the media and the public is huge."