Bulk of information requests related to police, fire calls

May 03, 2010|By ANDREW SCHOTZ
  • Public Information Act requests in 2009

o Cost of copying public records varies widely

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Last year, local governments received thousands of requests for copies of public information.

People asked for reports of inspections of homes, traffic signals and delinquent loans.

They wanted copies of contracts for engineering and inmate health care.

One person filed to get a photo of Hagerstown's police chief and an officer.

The bulk of the requests were for records related to police, fire and emergency calls.

Washington County processed 672 requests for information from its sheriff's department in 2009, according to summary pages reviewed by The Herald-Mail. Many requests were from attorneys or insurance companies seeking accident or incident reports.

About 250 to 300 other requests were for records compiled by the Department of Emergency Services, according to Assistant County Attorney Kirk C. Downey.

The Hagerstown Police Department filled 1,455 PIA requests. The number of requests for fire incident reports is not logged.


For information within City Hall, the City of Hagerstown handled 51 official PIA requests. In some cases, there was more than one round of correspondence on a single request.

The public sought information about code violations, a condemnation, inspections and other records about properties, among other things.

The Washington County attorney's office -- which usually handles public information not connected to police, fire or emergency services calls -- responded to 32 PIA requests.

The office also answered 31 official requests from people wanting to know who accused them of violating county ordinances. In eight cases, the complainant's name was considered confidential and was withheld.

One person wanted five years' worth of animal control authority meeting minutes. Another wanted statutes on illegal immigration.

A Washington County Detention Center inmate asked for the names of the five county commissioners.

Downey and Karen Giffin, Hagerstown's director of community affairs, said they're seeing an increase in the number of PIA requests.

Downey said some are "data-mining" requests from companies gathering information for databases.

Only formal PIA requests were included in the counts supplied to The Herald-Mail, which requested them for this series. Many other times, people informally ask for and receive information over the phone, by e-mail or in person.

Washington County Public Schools received 10 PIA requests in 2009, according to district spokesman Richard Wright.

Four were from a representative of the Washington County Teachers Association and three from The Herald-Mail, which also made PIA requests last year to the city and county governments.

The city charges 25 cents per page for copies of most documents at City Hall. The police department charges $5 for the first four pages of a report and $1 for each additional page.

Washington County has a similar range -- 15 cents a page for many county documents, but $5 for the first page and $1 for each additional page for accident and incident reports from the sheriff's department.

Unlike the city and the county, the school system didn't charge for copies of records.

"We've never charged the public," Wright said.

Sample of PIA requests in Washington County

A sample of information sought, through official requests, from local governments (does not include requests The Herald-Mail filed):

From the City of Hagerstown

o Outstanding violations for homes on Pope Avenue and Indiana Avenue

o Reports on traffic control and signalization at Salem Avenue and North Burhans Boulevard

o Complaints about a home on South Potomac Street

o Inspections of a home on Fairchild Avenue

o Photos of Hagerstown's police chief and an officer

o Minutes from two Board of Technical Appeals meetings

o The number of outstanding revolving loan accounts and debts

o Water-consumption data for Robinwood Medical Center for two years

From Washington County

o Animal control authority minutes from 2000-04

o An update on a county landfill and methane gas project

o 911 calls connected to a helicopter crash

o The winning bid for providing inmate health care

o The names of the five Washington County commissioners

o A report of 2008 residential building permits

o The value of assessments for Black Rock Golf Course and Hagerstown Regional Airport

o Statutes connected to illegal immigration

From Washington County Public Schools

o Compensation records for all math and English teachers

o A list of vendors covering 24 months

o Annual salaries of staff with certificates

o A lease agreement between the school system and Hagerstown Grace Brethren Church

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