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Yesterday, the Washington Post broke the news that the D.C. Police Department has gotten a p.r. firm to do a little pro bono work to help buff up its image. I was quoted in the story (I hope I wasn’t too whiny) on a subject that should be familiar to loyal readers of City Desk: police stonewalling.
I am not sure how the p.r. firm will help. The best p.r. doesn’t get made with a press release. The best p.r. comes from beat cops responding to citizens, solving cases, and, well, not stonewalling when reporters ask simple questions or request the most basic information allowed under FOIA law. The department has 15 days to respond to a FOIA. The Post reports that the police department failed the 15-day rule on a huge percentage of requests. One request the police haven’t responded to dates back to June 2007.
The department claims its FOIA problem is a manpower issue. They just haven’t had the personnel. Really? How is it different than other agencies? I’d assert that the police department has more press personnel than all other city agencies—maybe more than the mayor’s office.
How many press people does the Department of Mental Health have? One.
Child and Family Services Agency? One.
The Department of Corrections? Zero.
No, it’s not a personnel problem. It’s a problem that goes deeper than how many bodies are taking reporters’ phone calls. Anyone want to guess why the department fails to respond to FOIAs?