Investigating the Police: A How-to guide
From Fri Feb 24 08:59:39 1995
Date: Wed, 22 Feb 1995 17:34:39 -0800
From: Applied Research Center 
Subject: Rapsheet 5

Investigating the Police: A Rhow-toS guide Mark Toney, Direct
Action for Rights & Equality

Planning for Research

Finding information about the police is not easy. However, like
anything else, in order to reach our goal, we need to make a plan.
Here are a few research goals generated at a meeting of DARE
leaders and staff:

1) Identify laws and regulations that define acquisition of public

* Freedom of Information Act, which covers records and documents
held by federal agencies only.
* State Public Records Act, or Sunshine Law, which covers records
and documents held by state, county, and municipal agencies.

2) Obtain records to help show that police violence is

* Complaints of police abuse/misconduct.
* Disciplinary action taken against police officers found guilty
of abuse.

3) Obtain documentation of the costs of police violence.

* Records of cash settlements paid by the city to victims of
police abuse.
* Correlation between settlements and liability insurance the city
must pay.

4) Find out how money is spent on the police.

* Budget of the police department.
* How asset forfeiture money is spent.

5) Obtain documents that can be used to hold police accountable.

* Operations Procedural Manual.
* Codes of Police Conduct.

6) Obtain documents that can be used to protect police from public

* Union Contracts.
* Police RBill of Rights,S if applicable.

Sources of Information

Once we have a general idea of what information we want, weUll
need to identify the agencies that have the documents and records.
Although this will vary from city to city, places to start your
search include:

-- American Civil Liberties Union: With officials in nearly every
major city in the US, the ACLU has a long history monitoring
police misconduct. They are likely to know sources of information,
how to obtain public records, and the specific documents to ask
for. The ACLU often has its own records of people who come to them
with police abuse claims.

-- Civilian Review Board: In many cities, Civilian Review Boards
are responsible for investigating and conducting hearings on
police abuse complaints.

-- Human Relations Commission: In both the municipal and statewide
versions, Human Relations Commissions often receive many
complaints of police abuse.

-- Police Department: In many cities without Civilian Review
Boards or active Human Relations Commissions, the police
RinvestigateS themselves. Often there is an Internal Affairs
division that handles the investigations and hearings.

-- US Department of Justice: Although the Department of Justice,
through the FBI, rarely follows up on complaints of police abuse,
they have records and they can follow up, if pursued.

-- City Clerk: As official keeper of the records for the city, the
City Clerk is a treasure trove of information. Budgets, records of
cash settlements, and minutes from city council committees that
deal with police, are here.

-- City Solicitor: Documents such as union bargaining agreements,
police Rbill of rights,S (if applicable) insurance contracts,
court costs, etc., are often available here.

-- State Attorney General: Most useful for information on asset
forfeiture funds distributed to municipalities.

Identifying Specific Documents

Asking for documents by specific name is far more effective than
asking for general information. Part of the game played by
government agencies is to interpret the open records acts so
narrowly that you get only the absolute minimum amount of
information requested. If you donUt specifically ask for
something, donUt expect to get it.

For instance, if you write a letter to the police department
asking for Rall records pertaining to police abuse complaints,S
you have given them an opportunity to feign ignorance, i.e., Rwe
donUt know what you are talking about.S The request is
strengthened by asking for Ra copy of every Civilian Complaint
Report (Form #210) from 1984 to present.S

Whenever possible, it is best to speak to someone in the targeted
agency to find out how reports and other records are kept.
Visiting agencies to ask for blank copies of forms is often
effective.  Mechanics of Formal Requests Open records acts usually
specify formal procedures for requesting information in writing.
We want to keep a paper trail that we can use when we are refused
access to records. Some steps to take in the formal request
process are:

l) Write a letter of request

* Address it to the director or chief of department.
* Cite the law you are using to gain access to the information.
* Specify each record you want with precision.
* Specify the date a response is required by, as provided for by
law (usually 10 days).
* Use Rreturn receipt requestedS mail only.  It costs more, but
provides you with proof of delivery.

2) Follow up

* Call the agency on the 10th day.
* Prepare a letter appealing denial. (Failure to respond is same
as denial)
* Be prepared to agree to deletion of individual names on records,
if that issue is preventing release.


DonUt forget that we are organizers doing research Q not
researchers doing organizing. Look for opportunities to combine
research with actions, especially when agencies need a little
encouragement to be cooperative.

From Issue #3 of RapSheet, April 1994 Trends in Police Work, Law
Enforcement Reform, & Community Control

Prepared by the Applied Research Center for the Campaign for
Community Safety & Police Accountability