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D.C. Agencies’ FOIA Performance Slips in 2015; Problems Especially For Requesters Seeking Police Records – New Report

dcogcadmin | July 23, 2016

Analysis of the 2015 data on over 70 D.C. agencies’ responses to requests for public records under the D.C. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) shows troubling trends, according to a new report just released.

In handling about 6,200 new requests, compared to the prior year D.C. agencies granted fewer, rejected more, took longer doing so, and were more often wrong.

Requesters got all or some of what they asked only 56 percent of the time, down from 66 percent in 2014.  Total denials ticked up from 8 to 9 percent (led by Office of Police Complaints that again denied just about all of its hundreds of requests for records of police complaints).  

Responses were less timely as staff failed to keep up with a 7 percent increase in new requests –- 36 percent of responses now take longer than the law allows (15 work days), up from 30 percent.

And errors increased. Dissatisfied requesters can appeal to the mayor (and agencies half the time managed to come up with records after learning of an appeal that would bring independent scrutiny). Among decided appeals, the mayor reversed agency denials 43 percent of the time, remanding them for further work such as more complete search or withdrawing unlawful claims of exemption.  This figure, now almost half of all decided appeals, is a jump also, up from 33 percent the previous year.

The largest volume of requests (13 percent of the total) went to the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD). (Followed by Department of Consumer & Regulatory Affairs and Department of Energy & Environment.)

The MPD had difficulty keeping up; it had the most long-delayed responses (hundreds taking more than 26 days) and the biggest year-end backlog of requests still unfilled, on average, after 68 days.  It rejected many requests, invoking exemptions to protect privacy of those in police records and generating far more appeals and lawsuits than any other agency.  Its record is mixed in appeals; it loses often in lawsuits.

The full report (by this blogger) is available at the link below. It is based on the mayor’s reports to the D.C. Council on FOIA processing and appeals in 2015 as well as the attorney general’s report on court cases active during the year. Those reports are available here, and for past years as well, on the website of the Office of the Secretary of the District of Columbia.