Has anyone else received a public information request from ratemycop.com? They are requesting a list of names and employee ID numbers for all of the deputies who work for our S.O. The only thing I can find in AG opinions to help me is a couple in which the AG said the S.O. could withhold names of undercover officers. Otherwise, it seems like public information. Frankly, it is one of those requests that I just do not like.
I'm an assistant city attorney in Burlington, Vermont and our police department just received similar request.
Have you found anything else beside the undercover exception? Similarly, it is a request we do not like.
Well folks.. like it or not... not only are there local laws that provide for access to this information; but the Freedom of Information Act supports it. Of course, you can't give out cell phone numbers, home addresses, etc.; but an officer's name and badge number (i.e., info you can get if you see him/her) is public info.
Like it or not....it's the law. Those who are tasked with upholding and enforcing it shouldn't seek to avoid it because they "don't like it".
Obviously, we understand that these laws exist and what they require government to do. This thread seeks to find out what is necessary to comply with these laws and still offer protection to the peace officers who serve our society.
I receive a Freedom of Information newsletter every so often, and the past issue really amazed me. There are many PIA requestors who are merely out to harass a particular government organization. They make hundreds, if not thousands of requests on a continuing basis. The government entity has to comply; there is no exception for harassing requests.
I noticed that one woman has dedicated her life to getting ALL school districts to post their check registers online. I am glad that someone is finding yet another non-education related item on which to force our schools to spend even more school district money.
The striking aspect about organizations such as ratemycop is that it appears to lack a reasonable purpose. If anything, it probably serves to harass the men and women who are out every day trying to make our society safe.
Even if there is a decent motive behind this organization, they seem to want to post a bunch of personal information about these officers all over the Internet, where it can be used by others without such good motives.
The PIA needs to address this type of reality.
Public lawyers should have just as much of a right to discuss the law as anyone else. Interesting how some think the public information law is not subject to debate. As lawyers, we recognize the difference between following the law as written and expressing an opinion about problems with how the law is written.
Prosecutors are in the unique position of being able to let lawmakers know the sometimes dangerous and often unintended consequences of the bills they pass. In the area of public information, some of those laws directly conflict with our duty to make sure investigations are conducted in a safe and professional manner. Interruption by disclosure of confidential information sometimes can and does prevent a worthy public goal of solving crime.
I would only add that all lawyers, whether they are employed by the government or a private entity, are tasked with evaluating the law critically as it relates to their client(s). The Texas Public Information Act (which is the actual open government law regarding information that applies to non-federal governmental entities in Texas) is no exception. Just as the PIA's command that public information be accessible to the public serves a deliberate purpose, so too do its exceptions and exclusions.
It is particularly helpful for those who work in district and county attorneys' offices to discuss critical issues in PIA law, not only because it relates to information that may be held by or about our clients, but also because Texas district and county attorneys are expressly responsible for criminal and civil enforcement of the statute, as provided in Subchapter I and section 552.3215 of the act. That prosecutors would discuss their criticism of the way the law is written or of certain types of requests is no more an indicator of intent to flout the PIA than defense lawyers criticizing a Court of Criminal Appeals or U.S. Supreme Court decision regarding a constitutional issue is an indicator that they seek to flout the constitution.
With that said, I welcome FOIA Lawyer to this forum and the healthy debate it encompasses.
Actually, I have often found that when I am confronted with someone telling me the law requires something that I don't like, I am often able to find an exception in the law that the advocate failed to mention. Thus, if an adovocate tells me the law requires me to do something I don't think I should, rather than avoid the law, I quite frequently have found the law supports my common-sense objection to the advocate's position.
That said, I do find it hard to believe the law would keep secret the mere names and numbers of the public servants working as peace officers (excluding, naturally, those whose identities-if exposed- would endanger them or prevent them doing their jobs).
I do find it ironic that the FOIA lawyer didn't use his full name
"The striking aspect about organizations such as ratemycop is that it appears to lack a reasonable purpose."
I would guess their "reasonable purpose" is ultimately to make money. First by selling ads, and then by walling off most of their product and charging for reports. So you ultimately have the public paying for information it should be able to get for free. Of course, it may be easier to pay $20 for an on-line report than to deal with the government bureaucracy. Welcome to the very early days of the information age...
The legitimate purpose is to call attention to good and bad officers of the law.
http://youtube.com/watch?v=kBeB81PPlng is only one example of why a site like this is need.
Officers of the law must be held to the highest standards. Those whom meet and exceed those standards should be praised and awarded, those who do not should shamed, removed from service, and jailed in some cases.
I've witnessed more than one officer acting in an unprofessional manner. Misrepresenting the facts in a case or the related laws. Bullying and intimidation. And just a general level of unprofessionalism that should never be seen in a representative of of the people.
I find it amusing that these same officers dont find issue with posting the personal information of criminals on the internet yet oppose having their information posted on the internet. The legitimate threat level for them both appears the same.
Frankly I believe that all officers should be forced to wear camera and recording equipment that is recording all on duty moments so that we have a record of all their interactions.
www.ratemycop.com is really what we need. There is no reason to hide the identities of those who are here to protect us ...is there? As for the site making money. Give me a break. I am certain that the last time I was pulled over , driving down my empty street, nobody around going 30 instead of 25 and I was pulled over was for the police to make money. There were paperboys on bikes traveling faster than I was.
OH.. I was pulled over because it was the law? Because they can? Publish the names of all the people We pay to protect US. Do it because its the law. Do it because we can.
No wonder the city of Austin police cars have help wanted signs on them. Who would want to be a cop like the cops we already have?
Shoot first. questions later.
Some of the above posts present some interesting questions: Who decides whether or not a peace officer is "good" or "bad?" Based on what criteria or source of information? Because an officer enforces the law, not giving a "break," is he or she a bad officer, merely because the recipient didn't like it? Sounds like some folks have been on the receiving end of law enforcement and can't look in the mirror to find the source of their frustration.
You should visit ratemycop.com. It will answer your questions as to who, what, how, why. You will also see that these are rational everyday people reporting on their experiences.
one does not need to be a criminal or trouble maker to desire to point out a bad cop from a good cop.
I tried to check the site out to get an idea of what the buzz is about (they have sent us an information request). Couldn't get to it. Apparently, from what I could glean from the blogosphere, GoDaddy.com pulled the plug on the site. The bloggers clearly suspect that nefarious or corrupt police influence on GoDaddy was the cause. I don't know what the real story is, but I'm disappointed that I can't find out information about what they do while I prepare to provide information to them.
I looked earlier this week, and two things struck me about this "service":
(1) there did not appear to me to be anyway to find out anything about the people making the ratings, most or all of whom had cute user names; and
(2) the good ratings did not seem to specify why except to say "great guy" or something of that nature, and the bad ratings seemed to come from persons who had been arrested by the officer.
This did not seem to me to be an objective, realiable system of rating police officers.
This TDCAA forum, with as much good as I have derived from it, has apparently become an anonymous poster magnet.
IANAL, but I thought it might please you to have some information from users of such a site so that you can frame your thoughts on these requests and understand the purpose of such a site.
First, I dont want any police officers to be put at risk. I'm not really sure that a site of this nature constitutes additional risks outside of their current duties as a law enforcement officer. Its a dangerous job. Certainly I dont want criminal investigations to be be put at risk by making information about confidential officers public. Its important to understand what is requested is simply a list of officers' names and badge numbers that are known to the public. I can just as easily get this information from the clerk of courts, it is after all not a secret.
Second, I would like to share with you my personal use for ratemycop.com. I want to publicly commend an officer that has done an outstanding job serving the public. I would hope that other LEO might see this information or hear of it and strive to achieve the same level of service. This of course works inversely. Not all LEO do a good job all the time. It would be a service to provide a public rating system so perhaps someone that got a ticket from a guy can see that he isn't such a good guy. Perhaps someone that has an encounter with an officer that is not following the law or taking liberties or otherwise not conducting himself becoming of a police officer would benefit from seeing if its a pattern or an anomaly. Certainly DA's and the like would benefit from knowing which officers put cases at risk with their misconduct.
I want criminals to receive justice. I want the system to work. I'm certain everyone does except for the criminals. What good is an officer that puts cases at risk on a regular basis with a pattern of misconduct? How can the public have confidence in the current system when it is transluscent at best and opaque at worst.
The attitude represented on this thread is precisely the reason why the public is concerned. It seems to me that the real concern is that officers could be subject to criticism because the stated perceived risks dont really hold water. These officers are armed and on the streets apprehending sometimes dangerous criminals. The information about them is PUBLIC. It seems your effort is not to critically evaluate the risks, but to hamper efforts to gain information mandated by law to be available to the public.
It has been stated that you have a duty to your clients. You also have a moral and ethical duty to the law. It seems to me the latter is more important than the former. Certainly you dont condone stonewalling on the part of defense attorneys because they claim they have a duty to their client do you?
I think this idea might benefit from further expansion to cover not only law enforcement officers but also district attorneys, judges, etc.
Do not forget who you work for. This shouldn't be a us vs. them where us is a cabal of DA's and them is the general public. This type of thinking is exactly what creates a need for sites such as ratemycop.
Now if you'll excuse me, I must report the outstanding service of one of my city's finest.
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