SUNSHINE WEEK – SHERIFFS AND LOCAL LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES
The Sheriff is a constitutional officer pursuant to Louisiana Constitution Article 5, Section 27 operating in each parish and elected by the voters. He is the “chief law enforcement officer in the parish”, “tax collector”, “keeper of the jail” and mandated to “preserve the peace and apprehend all disturbers thereof.” Sheriffs come with varied experience, backgrounds and of course egos. Love ‘em or hate ‘em they are a necessary part of our system of government.
Municipal law enforcement agencies vary quite differently from the Sheriff’s Offices. Some Chiefs are elected, while others are appointed. Some serve as marshals for the court and others don’t. Depending on the size of the organization some may have oversight by a Civil Service Board or Council related to hiring, firing, discipline and promotions, while others have been carved out special powers to hire, fire, discipline and/or promote without any oversight.
However, when it comes to the criminal justice functions of these varying agencies the records they maintain, and the applicable exemptions are very similar. For instance, the most basic function of law enforcement is to take a report. Initial reports are public record. As well as records of the booking of a person, records of the issuance of a summons or citation, and records of the filing of a bill of information.
The response from Sheriff Offices in particular was tepid. One Sheriff in response to our requests for records claimed it was deficient because they don’t accept “electronic” requests. Another Sheriff, through his lawyer, refused to process our request which he admitted was directed to and received by the Sheriff. His reason? We did not “initiate a public records request” in accordance with the Sheriff’s policies and procedures. Other Sheriffs demanded that payment be made whether we purchased the records or just conducted an in-person inspection. I guess when you are the Sheriff you can flat out ignore or refuse to answer requests. After all, if a Sheriff gets sued, it will be the taxpayers on the hook for his defense.
Did you know?
All initial reports generated by law enforcement are public records and shall set forth a narrative description of the alleged offense, the name and identification of each person charged with or arrested for the alleged offense, the time and date of the alleged offense, the location of the alleged offense, the property involved, the vehicles involved and the names of investigating officers.
SHERIFFS (Louisiana Constitution Article 5, Section 27) AND LOCAL LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES:
The following five request were sent to each Sheriff and several local Law Enforcement Agencies, with a sixth request being directed only to the Sheriff:
- All initial reports generated for the day of January 1, 2022.
- Any and all communication sent during the period of time of January 1, 2021 through December 31, 2021 to local, state and federal prosecutors disclosing Brady material.
- Individual appointment calendar of the Sheriff/Chief for the period of time of January 1, 2022 through January 31, 2022, including but not limited to: traditional hard copy calendars and electronically stored information on cell phone(s), computer(s) and/or other electronic devices.
- Expenses reports or listing of expense reimbursements for the Sheriff/Chief for the period of time of January 1, 2022 through January 31, 2022 OR IN THE ALTERNATIVE; any and all documents of expense reimbursements for the Sheriff for the period of time of January 1, 2022 through January 31, 2022.
- Compensation received by the Sheriff/Chief for the calendar year of January 1, 2021 through December 31, 2021, including but not limited to salary, salary augmentation, stipends, vehicle subsidies, cell phone subsidies, insurance benefits, etc.
- Jail booking sheet/report for January 1, 2022. (Sheriffs Only)
The Sheriffs and local Law Enforcement Agencies were then graded based on ten objective factors with each being worth one point, for a maximum score of ten points. Below is how the governing bodies ranked after the passage of at least thirty days from the date of the request.
Have the public bodies made information regarding how to request public records readily available and easy to find (i.e. website, etc.)?
- 12% 12%
Did the public bodies acknowledge the receipt of the public records request or provide any exemptions within three days?
- 39% 39%
Did the public bodies produce the records for inspection or provide an estimate of time reasonably necessary for production within five days of the request?
- 13% 13%
Did the public bodies accept the e-mailed requests without a demand that it be presented on a particular form, in a particular format or submitted in an alternative fashion?
- 93% 93%
Did the public bodies accept the request without demanding that a state issued identification card be provided?
- 93% 93%
Did the public bodies refrain from inquiring about the purpose of the requests?
- 98% 98%
Did the public bodies respond without employing an attorney to respond?
- 59% 59%
Were the records or information made available free of charge and/or without a request for a deposit?
- 60% 60%
Were the records or information made available by electronic means or did the custodian indicate the records could be copied using a portable scanning device?
- 63% 63%
Were the records provided by the public bodies responsive to the requests and of good quality?
- 62% 62%