|Multi Request||Ongoing data feed of incident reports|
|Submitted||May 6, 2019|
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To Whom It May Concern:
Pursuant to the Texas Public Information Act, I hereby request the following records:
Documents in the form of data feeds of police incident reports. We request that they be transmitted to us:
- Including the following fields: area, date, time, incident type, location, city, narrative, latitude/longitude, case number, incident number (if different from case number), beat/sector, district/precinct, zip code.
- In a way that leaves them unaltered from the way they appear in police databases, barring the standard deletions of columns that contain personal information
- In a recurring and timely manner. That is especially to say, at the same rate they are exported for any other third party, such as a vendor of the police department’s. We maintain that if any other third party has the right to these public documents on a particular timeline, we (as well as any other citizen) has the right to the documents on the same timeline. No extra work should be involved in distributing them to us at the same time as any other third party. It’s merely the addition of a second address to the automatic mechanism for regular sending to the other.
- Preferably in a form of an API, if the police department has one set up for any other third party. (Again, we maintain that in the case of public records such as these, all citizens have the same rights per the state’s transparency law.) If no API is available, we can help you set one up. If you aren’t amenable to that, we prefer a dropbox such as an FTP server. But in general, the automatic method in which the data is transmitted to any other third party should work for us.
- If individual files have to be transmitted, say, on a daily basis, we request that they at least be in a machine-readable form, such as XML, RSS feed, CSV, RDF, JSON, TXT, XLS(S), or KML.
For the record, this requester, SpotCrime, is a free-to-the-public, ad-supported, news website of aggregated police reports. We have never not qualified as a news organization for the purposes of a freedom-of-information request.
We recognize that this is theoretically not one freedom-of-information request but, maybe technically, an infinite series of them. We’re happy to submit a copy of this request every day, so long as we get data on the same timeline as any other third party to which your jurisdiction distributes it. But we figure you would rather not receive a pointless series of copied requests. It’s much more simple, and in line with your state’s transparency law, to provide the data to the public in the same format and on the same timeline as you provide it to any other third party.
Speaking of your state’s transparency law, we believe that any contracts your department or your city has entered into with any third party (such as a vendor) are null and void in one particular instance: they cannot negate the law of the state in which you reside. That means that any provision of a contract that states these records are proprietary to the vendor—or in their control and not the public body’s—is almost certainly nullified by your state’s open records law. No public body can give away, except by nullification of it’s state’s law, the public’s right to public records.
A hypothetical example makes it easy to understand. Let's say two people wanted to enter into a contract—sign it, make it official—for one of them to be able to kill the other. Maybe dependent upon the outcome of some game they both play. Clearly, that part of their contract is void. That’s because someone’s contract can’t allow something that the state law disallows. By the same token, a contract can’t disallow something that state law provides for. In this case, your state’s law provides for the rendition of unaltered public documents to any member of the public who requests. To the extent your contract with a vendor allegedly prohibits you from releasing data feeds to the public, you have a duty to dishonor the contract and follow the law of the state.
Then the question becomes, do you have the duty to release it to the public under precisely the same terms by which you release the data to the vendor? Can you give a vendor data twice a day while giving the public the same data only weekly? Copious caselaw developed in litigation by news outlets demonstrates that, no, one member of the public (such as a company) cannot be treated as a second-class citizen to another. The timeline of release is important because the value to the public, of these public records, is greatly diminished after a week. Such a situation, granting valuable records to one entity and value-diminished records to another, would clearly create a preferential tier of requester. (The only counter-argument would be if the corporation took your data/documents and made them immediately available, free to the public, without restriction.)
These records are already generated by a department whose budget is between one-fifth and one-third of the city’s tax base. The records of what the police do with these funds are of paramount importance to the public.
These records are being requested on behalf of SpotCrime and on behalf of Brandon Smith.
The requested documents will be made available to the general public, and this request is not being made for commercial purposes.
In the event that there are fees, I would be grateful if you would inform me of the total charges in advance of fulfilling my request. I would prefer the request filled electronically, by e-mail attachment if available or CD-ROM if not.
Thank you in advance for your anticipated cooperation in this matter. I look forward to receiving your response to this request within 10 business days, as the statute requires.
To Whom It May Concern:
I wanted to follow up on the following Texas Public Information Act request, copied below, and originally submitted on May 6, 2019. Please let me know when I can expect to receive a response.
Thanks for your help, and let me know if further clarification is needed.
Dear Brandon Smith,
HPD does not have a data feed for our reports that we send to a vendor. Since we do not have a document responsive to your request, we are closing our file. However, you may view our NIBRS data on our website at:
This page gets updated monthly. There is also a link for historical files on that page.
Houston Police Department
Open Records Unit