Announcing the winners of our FOIA contest!

Announcing the winners of our FOIA contest!

Written by
Edited by Sarah Alvarez

MuckRock launched a special contest in January in search of great public records request ideas. Today we’re pleased to announce the winners. They will be receiving cash prizes, MuckRock swag, and the knowledge that their requests will help to spur fresh inquiries and important impact throughout the United States.

The winner

Our grand prize winner is Twitter user @sunnyslopegirl1. Her suggestion to request information related to municipal water leaks was a favorite among the judges. It has accountability potential in every jurisdiction of the country, could easily be filed by residents and journalists alike, and addresses infrastructure issues that are easily overlooked. Those who want to see a version of @sunnyslopegirl1’s request submitted to their local jurisdiction should let us know.

The runner-up

Though it was submitted anonymously, our judges couldn’t ignore the impact of the request suggestion: county jail medical contracts. “County jails often contract with private medical companies,” the requester highlighted. “The contracts sometimes do not cover items such as suicide watch which actually provides an incentive for the medical personnel to place more people on suicide watch.” We’re looking for newsrooms that would like to file and follow up with this request in their jurisdictions. Please get in touch to partner with us.

The honorable mentions:

We had so many great submissions, but we were only able to acknowledge three honorable mentions:

      Neal Delfeld: details on K9 search activity at schools “K9 searches in schools are a crucial part of a school-to-prison pipeline, yet the vast majority of searches produce no contraband or arrests,” Neal wrote. “Further, K9 searches are frequent in poor, rural, and minority communities, and are mostly unreported, even to the families of the students searched.” Though his own request in Fitchburg, MA did not provide the details he’d hoped, the judges considered the request creative, replicable, and important to learning how students are affected by law enforcement activity in their schools. If you want to see this request sent to your local school district, please let us know.

      Jerry Genesio: results of investigations into non-combat military fatalities. “The causes of military non-combat traumatic fatalities are rarely disclosed publicly. Some are homicides or rape/homicides. Some are due to faulty equipment, inadequate training, mishandled weapo, hazing, etc. The Pentagon cannot be held accountable if the results of investigations are not publicly available. Ideally, the Pentagon should be required to post a report of each investigation on a public .mil web site.”

      Grayson Flory: US Postal Service mail cover records Grayson wrote: “Law enforcement agencies can request that the USPS issue a “mail cover” on an address, which requires postal employees to record information from the outside of letters and packages to send to the agency that requested it. Records pertaining to mail covers can reveal law enforcement intrusion and surveillance.”

MuckRock would like to thank Government Attic for sponsoring this contest, all of the participants, and our judges: Keri Blakinger (The Marshall Project), Jewel Gopwani (Detroit Free Press), Rachel Alexander (Salem Reporter), Beryl Lipton (MuckRock).

Get your FOIA fees paid

Just because the contest is over doesn’t mean the awards stop. We want to continue building our repository of great request ideas and help requesters overcome fees as an impediment.

For the next three months, we’ll be experimenting with giving micro-grants to cover FOIA fees — up to $500 per month — in exchange for the requesters being willing to share the documents and the language for their request. This applies to both federal and state records requests.

If you run into prohibitive FOIA fees, just get in touch with the request you filed, the fees assessed, and why these documents are important, and we’ll work to get you a response within five days. Please use “FOIA Microgrant” in the subject line.