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State agencies deny public access to info, study shows

The Associated Press
Saturday September 30, 2000

SAN FRANCISCO – An audit of government agencies in California shows that some, such as police departments and school districts, denied people access to information that is clearly defined in state statutes as public. 

The audit was conducted by the California First Amendment Coalition and the Society of Professional Journalists. University journalism students sought records at more than 130 local government agencies in the San Francisco Bay area and Southern California. 

According to the audit, police departments denied oral requests 80 percent of the time. Police were closely followed by cities, which rejected 79 percent of requests, and school districts denied 72 percent of requests. 

When oral requests were followed up by written requests that cited the state’s disclosure statutes, the audit shows that police departments improved to 64 percent, cities denied 60 percent and school districts denied 33 percent. 

Students asked sheriffs departments for copies of reports to the attorney general detailing the circumstances of deaths of people in custody; police departments were asked for logs of 911 emergency calls; school districts were asked for expulsion records; and cities were asked for copies of notices to landlords for health or safety-related code violations that left their premises considered “unfit for human occupation.” All of the documents asked for are public under California’s Public Records Act, according to the First Amendment Coalition.