Challenges lengthy delays and high fees
Wisconsin Examiner, a nonpartisan, nonprofit news site, sued the Wauwatosa Police Department this week, challenging its response to numerous record requests. The suit, filed by the Wisconsin Transparency Project, alleges the department has failed to respond to record requests in a prompt manner, including one dating back almost three years. The suit also challenges exorbitant fees the department has tried to charge.
State law requires record requests to be filled “as soon as practicable and without delay.” Wisconsin’s Attorney General advises that 10 business days is enough time for most record requests. Examiner reporter Isiah Holmes has made numerous requests to Wauwatosa on a variety of topics that have not yet been fulfilled. One dates all the way back to January 15, 2021.
The suit draws attention to the fact that Wauwatosa Police Department employees and attorneys have claimed in open court proceedings that they are exceedingly transparent and they release as much information as possible. Their actual responses suggest otherwise.
Holmes commented, "The city of Wauwatosa and its police department have an opportunity to live up to the department's own stated commitment to transparency and integrity."
More recently, the department has begun charging Wisconsin Examiner hundreds of dollars to respond to simple requests for emails. State law permits record custodians to charge the “actual, necessary and direct cost” of locating records. But once records are located – which usually takes very little time for electronic records – further time spent on the request cannot be charged to the requester. Courts have expressly held that custodians can’t charge for “reviewing” records, yet Wauwatosa’s invoices are trying to do just that.
“Internal emails from the Wauwatosa Police Department suggest it charges high fees to deter people from making requests,” said Tom Kamenick, President and Founder of the Wisconsin Transparency Project. “We can’t allow that to continue.”